Coronavirus spreads to more countries; WHO raises risk alert to ‘very high’
The coronavirus spread to seven more countries Friday, left stock markets reeling and caused the World Health Organization to raise its impact risk alert to “very high.”
Mexico, Nigeria, New Zealand, Lithuania, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Iceland reported their first cases of the virus as the number of countries hit by the outbreak neared 60.
The United States reported its third case of the virus in a person who had no known history of travel to a country experiencing an outbreak of the disease, known as COVID-19.
U.S. health authorities said Friday they are waiting for confirmation of the testing results. The patient is reported to be an elementary school teacher.
Earlier Friday officials in California confirmed a second coronavirus case of unknown origin. The patient, who is a 65-year-old Northern California resident, also had no known connection to the country’s first case of community transmission, a woman also in Northern California.
The World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment of the coronavirus to its highest level.
“We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
The growing spread of coronavirus led many world stock markets to fall Friday to their lowest levels since the 2008 financial crisis.
In Mexico, health officials said a man in Mexico City who had recently visited Italy tested positive for the virus, and another patient was confirmed in the northern state of Sinaloa. Brazil is the only other country that has coronavirus in Latin America.
The case in Nigeria, detected in the economic capital, Lagos, was the first case in sub-Saharan Africa and the third to be confirmed in Africa. Nigerian officials said the case involved an Italian citizen who entered the country this week.
In Azerbaijan, a Russian citizen who had arrived from Iran was confirmed with the virus, and in Belarus an Iranian student who arrived from Azerbaijan tested positive.
Lithuania also announced that a woman who returned this week from a visit to Italy tested positive.
New Zealand confirmed its first coronavirus case, saying a recent arrival from Iran had tested positive.
In the Netherlands, the first case was confirmed late Thursday and another Friday, both of whom had recently traveled in northern Italy.
The outbreak appeared to be easing in China, where the virus originated. China’s National Health Commission reported 327 new cases and 44 deaths early Friday — the lowest number of new cases in more than a month. China had a total of 78,824 cases.
But the number in South Korea, the hardest-hit country outside China, reached 2,337, with 571 new cases and 13 deaths. Most of the cases were in Daegu, the South’s fourth-largest city.
The death toll in Italy rose to 21, with nearly 900 people infected.
The worldwide outbreaks have led governments and companies around the globe to implement closures and restrictions.
Switzerland canceled next week’s Geneva international car show, an important event for the auto industry. Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, told its employees to defer all nonessential travel.
In Japan, Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced closures. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered schools to close at least through March.
The United States and South Korea called off joint military drills.
In Germany, about 1,000 people were being quarantined in the country’s most populous state. The number of confirmed cases in Europe’s biggest economy exceeded 50.
In the United States, California health officials said they were monitoring 8,400 people for symptoms after their arrival on domestic flights.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the United States would invoke special powers to boost the production of masks, gloves and other items to protect against the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that the federal government was prepared to assist states if a widespread outbreak occurred.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday confirmed two more cases of the coronavirus among Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, bringing the tally among evacuees to 44.
The CDC’s head of respiratory diseases, Nancy Messonnier, said the agency’s goal was to have every state testing with the CDC’s coronavirus test kits by the end of next week.
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