China virus cases rise again, Trump urges calm after US death

Australia also reports 'first' death as South Korea detects 376 new cases

By: AFP      Published: 12:47 PM, 1 Mar, 2020
China virus cases rise again, Trump urges calm after US death

China reported a fresh spike in coronavirus infections on Sunday, as President Donald Trump urged calm after the first death on US soil and Australia registered its first fatality.

The virus has spread to more than 60 countries around the globe, prompting the World Health Organization to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.

Worldwide, nearly 3,000 people have been killed and about 87,000 infected since the virus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

China on Sunday reported 573 new infections, the highest figure in a week after a dip. All but three of them were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

While the numbers in China are still far lower than the huge daily increases reported during the first two weeks of February, COVID-19 has spread rapidly across borders, with South Korea, Italy and Iran emerging as hotspots.

South Korea, which has the most infected people outside China, reported 376 new cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 3,526.

Australia reported the first death on its soil -- a 78-year-old man who had been evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

There are fears the disease could hammer the global economy, and stock markets last week plunged to their lowest levels since the 2008 financial crisis.

First death on US soil

Global attention turned to the United States on Saturday after the first fatality on American soil was confirmed. -- and President Donald Trump hastily called a press conference to address fears.

"We've taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus," Trump said at a hastily arranged White House press conference.

"Our country is prepared for any circumstance... There is no reason to panic at all."

The fatality occurred in Washington state's King County, which includes Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, health officials said.

The victim was in his 50s and had "underlying health conditions," officials added, as they also announced a possible outbreak in a Washington state nursing home, where a health worker and a resident in her 70s were both confirmed sick with the virus.

Other residents and staff were "ill with respiratory symptoms or hospitalised with pneumonia of unknown cause," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

The death and two confirmed Washington cases all involved patients who had not travelled overseas or come in contact with anyone known to be ill, indicating the virus was spreading in the United States.

"We will see more cases," Health Secretary Alex Azar said at the White House.

"But it's important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms."

Australia's first coronavirus fatality

A 78-year-old man evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan died at a Perth hospital Sunday, becoming Australia's first fatality from the disease, officials said.

His 79-year-old wife was also infected with the disease during the cruise and remains in a Perth hospital, a spokeswoman for the Western Australian state health department told AFP.

The couple were among about 160 Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess last month and they tested positive for the coronavirus during their flight home.

They were immediately transferred to isolation units in the Perth hospital on February 21 while the rest of the evacuees were quarantined in a former miners' camp near the northern city of Darwin.

Andrew Robertson, Western Australia's chief medical officer, said the couple initially seemed to have only a mild version of the illness, but that the man's condition subsequently deteriorated.

He insisted both had been isolated early and that their cases posed "no risk to the general community or (medical) staff".

Earlier Sunday, health authorities in New South Wales state confirmed a 26th case of coronavirus in Australia after a man in his 40s who had travelled from Iran was diagnosed with the disease.

He was the second Australian infected in Iran. All other cases of the disease in Australia other than the Perth couple involved people who had come from China's Hubei province, where the virus was first reported.

South Korea situation

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday the government was waging "all-out responses" to contain the novel coronavirus as the country reported 376 new cases, taking the total to 3,526.

South Korea has the largest national total in the world outside China, after it saw a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days.

Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed over the virus, while more than 70 countries raised their travel restrictions against South Korea.

"The government is now waging all-out responses after raising the crisis alert to the highest level," Moon said at a ceremony marking Independence Movement Day, scaled down due to the outbreak.

"We will be able to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak and revive our shrunken economy," he added.

Nearly 90 percent of the cases were in Daegu, the centre of the country's outbreak, and its neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. The country's death toll remains at 17.

The national total is expected to rise further as authorities screen more than 260,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country's cases.

A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu -- the country's fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million -- before being diagnosed.

The streets of Daegu have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale. 

Authorities have urged the public to exercise caution and anyone with a fever or respiratory symptoms to stay home.

But officials say they are not considering a citywide quarantine for the city in the manner of the lockdown imposed on the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.

A surge in confirmed cases has led many events to be cancelled or postponed as the outbreak has hit the world's 12th-largest economy, including concerts by K-pop superstars BTS and the World Team Table Tennis Championships.

Auto giant Hyundai Motor also suspended operations at one of its Ulsan plants after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

The new school term start has been delayed one week nationwide and three weeks in Daegu, while the US and South Korean militaries have postponed forthcoming joint exercises.

France, Italy measures

France cancelled gatherings of 5,000 people or more after 16 new cases were confirmed there on Saturday, bringing the country's total to 73.

Sunday's Paris half-marathon and an agricultural symposium were among the events that were axed.

Italy, the hotspot of the outbreak in Europe, saw a jump in new cases on Saturday, with its number of infections exceeding 1,000 and the death toll jumping by eight to 29.

The outbreak forced the postponement of five matches in Italy's top-flight Serie A football league, including the heavyweight clash between champions Juventus and Inter Milan.

In recent days, the epidemic has spread also to sub-Saharan Africa, while Qatar, Ecuador, Luxembourg and Ireland all confirmed their first cases on Saturday.

Governments around the world have scrambled to prevent the spread of the virus, from large-scale lockdowns of millions of people in China to flight bans and travel restrictions from disease hotspots.

Beijing's drastic steps include curbing the movement of people, temporarily closing factories across China and quarantining Hubei, a key industrial province where the virus first appeared.

South Korea's epidemic is centred in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, whose streets have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.

The total in South Korea is expected to rise further as authorities screen more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country's cases.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.