By Ryan Woo
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Hubei province reported an uptick in new cases of coronavirus on Friday, reversing three days of declines, although the numbers still confirmed a downward trend which the World Health Organization (WHO) has called encouraging.
The province at the center of the global health emergency said it had counted 411 new cases as of Feb. 20, up from 349 a day earlier but still the lowest since Jan. 26. The death toll in Hubei rose by 115 to 2,144, mostly in the provincial capital of Wuhan, a city of 11 million which remains under virtual lockdown.
Chinese officials say the declining rate of new infections shows they are succeeding in keeping the virus contained to Hubei, with severe restrictions on travel and movement imposed at great cost to the world’s second-biggest economy.
Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged the apparent slowdown in Chinese infections but warned the flu-like virus could still spread rapidly in China and beyond.
“We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,” Tedros told reporters. Online site for coronavirus news – https://www.reuters.com/live-events/coronavirus-6-id2921484
To date, 25 other countries have reported 1,076 cases to the WHO, and while that was very low compared with about 75,000 inside China, Tedros said: “That may not stay the same for long”.
South Korea’s fourth-largest city is the latest hotspot, with streets abandoned and residents holed up indoors after dozens of people caught the new coronavirus in what authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church.
The deserted shopping malls and cinemas of Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people, became one of the most striking images outside China of an outbreak that international authorities are trying stop from becoming a global pandemic.
Resident Kim Geun-woo, 28, told Reuters by telephone: “It’s like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the city. It looks like a zombie apocalypse.”
South Korea now has 104 confirmed cases of the flu-like virus, and reported its first death.
Iranian health officials urged all religious gatherings to be suspended in Qom, news agency ISNA said on Thursday, after two more people tested positive for the coronavirus in the holy city, where two died of it this week. Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html
Two Australians evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan had tested positive for the pathogen at a quarantine camp in the country’s far north and would be hospitalized near their homes, Australia’s health department said on Friday.
New research suggesting the virus is more contagious than previously thought added to the alarm.
U.S. stocks fell on Thursday and gold prices hit their highest in seven years as investors sought safe havens over worries about the coronavirus’ economic impact. [MKTS/GLOB]
U.S. manufacturers are scrambling for alternative sources as supply chains in China, the workshop of the world, struggle to cope.
“If you look at today’s chain of supply, if China suffers, everyone in the world will suffer as well,” China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Chen Xu, told reporters.
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Japan reported the deaths of two elderly passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship on Thursday, the first fatalities from aboard the ship where more than 630 cases account for the biggest cluster of infection outside China.
Japan, due to host the Olympics in July, began allowing passengers who test negative to leave and hundreds disembarked on Wednesday and Thursday.
China’s Global Times newspaper reported 36 new cases at one Beijing hospital as of Thursday, a sharp increase from nine cases two weeks earlier. It said this had led “many to fear a potential explosion of infection numbers in the capital.”
Fears of the contagion triggered violence in Ukraine, where residents of a central town clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying evacuees from Hubei to a quarantine center.
Hundreds of helmeted police, police vans and an armored personnel carrier were dispatched to keep order as the town waited for the evacuees to arrive.
Americans evacuated from China due to the coronavirus outbreak also faced discrimination.
Amy Deng, who underwent home quarantine with her daughter Daisy, 8, said neighbors had called police over concerns they would spread the disease.
“People were already panicked, then they made up this rumor and spread it, telling us not to even live in the community,” said Deng, 45, a Santa Rosa, California, acupuncturist.