The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continued its spread across the globe during the first week of March, despite travel restrictions aimed at curtailing its spread.
As the global death toll reached over 3,000, South Korea said Monday it has confirmed 599 new cases, far higher than the daily tally reported in China. With 4,335 confirmed infections and at least 28 deaths, South Korea has the second-largest national caseload. However, it has tested more than 100,000 people, far more than most nations.
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In the United States, where two deaths were reported over the weekend, tests have taken place at a far slower pace. Genetic analysis has suggested that the novel coronavirus, which causes the highly infectious respiratory disease COVID-19, has probably been spreading undetected for about six weeks in Washington state. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday took steps to sharply expand testing.
Italy now has more than 1,600 confirmed cases and 52 deaths, while Iran surpassed 1,500, with 66 deaths. Travelers from both countries appear to have spread the virus to other nations in the Middle East and Europe. Elsewhere, Indonesia, one of the few large nations thought to be free of the virus, said Monday that it had two confirmed cases, while others were reported in Australia, India, and Portugal.
Here are the latest developments:
- The number of deaths worldwide is now more than 3,000, with infections exceeding 90,000
- More than 90 percent are in Hubei, China, but there have been deaths in 10 other countries
- The European Union disease prevention agency raises risk level to “moderate to high”
- The leader of a South Korean church (which South Korea labels a cult) linked to the outbreak gets on his knees to apologize
- Iran reported 66 deaths, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a high-ranking adviser to the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- Indonesia, Iceland, Portugal, Armenia, the Czech Republic, and Andorra confirm their first cases
- Australia confirms the first person-to-person transmission
- China reports 42 more deaths — a total of 2,912
The head of the religious sect that has been at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea has apologized to the nation for the disease’s spread. Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, got on his knees and bowed at a news conference. About 60 percent of the country’s 4,335 confirmed cases are sect members.
Prosecutors have been asked to investigate Mr. Lee on possible charges of gross negligence. “Although it was not intentional, many people have been infected,” said the 88-year-old leader. “We put our utmost efforts, but were unable to prevent it all.”
Factory activity in China fell at a record rate in February, as manufacturers closed their operations to contain the spread of coronavirus. The country’s official measure of manufacturing activity — the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) — dropped to 35.7 from 50 in January. It shows the virus is having a bigger impact than the financial crisis that shook the world last decade. The data also suggests that factories are struggling to find enough workers.
Many are dependent on China’s 300 million migrant workers, a third of whom are still not working because of quarantine rules. It is expected that China’s economic growth will take a significant hit in the first half of this year because of the impact coronavirus has had on business and spending in the country.
There was one silver lining to the fall in Chinese output though: NASA said pollution monitoring satellites had detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide over the country, which evidence suggests is “at least partly” related to the economic slowdown caused by the outbreak.
The United States
The total number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States jumped by two dozen over the weekend, as the first two deaths from the outbreak were confirmed.
New cases of the virus were announced in Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state, New York and Florida on Sunday, bringing the U.S. total to 89 as of Monday morning, up from 65 on Friday night.
The new cases prompted emergency declarations in at least two states and sparked new warnings. Schools in the Seattle area, Portland area, and Rhode Island all announced closures for cleaning this week after presumptive positive cases linked to either students or staff.
The EU’s watchdog for diseases — the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) — has upgraded its risk assessment for coronavirus in Europe to “moderate to high.” That’s based on the fact that some cases can’t be linked to a specific chain of transmission, and the growing number of countries reporting incidences of the virus. Eighteen EU member states will work together to buy protective equipment for medical professionals.
European health ministers will meet on Friday, national border officials are meeting regularly, and finance ministers from the countries using the euro single currency will hold a conference call on Tuesday. EU Budget Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni warned it would be optimistic to expect a quick economic recovery. But the message from Brussels was not to panic.
Europe has not been as hard hit as China, but several member countries have had outbreaks and the EU is scrambling to coordinate the health response. Italy has had it worst, with 1,694 people testing positive. “As of this morning, we have 2,100 confirmed cases in 18 EU member states and we have 38 citizens who have lost their lives,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Monday.
Global economic outlook
The global economy could grow at its slowest rate since 2009 this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned. The influential think tank has forecast growth of just 2.4 percent in 2020, down from 2.9 percent in November. But it said a longer “more intensive” outbreak could halve growth to 1.5 percent.
It came after the Bank of England vowed to help stabilize markets, which suffered steep losses last week. Coronavirus is already forcing businesses to suspend operations in China and elsewhere as officials try to contain its spread.
The OECD forecast the global economy could recover to 3.3 percent growth in 2021, assuming the epidemic peaked in China in the first quarter of this year and other outbreaks proved mild and contained. But it said the picture would be much worse if the virus spread throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.