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Coronavirus reaches new countries as crisis seems to ease in China

Almost nine times more cases were reported outside China than inside it over the past 24 hours.

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Pakistani health personnel take part in a drill as a preventative measures during an emergency of coronavirus outbreak, in Peshawar Pakistan, Monday, March 3, 2020. Pakistani health officials reported coronavirus cases in Pakistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Pakistani health personnel take part in a drill as a preventative measures during an emergency of coronavirus outbreak, in Peshawar Pakistan, Monday, March 3, 2020. Pakistani health officials reported coronavirus cases in Pakistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Pakistani health personnel take part in a drill as a preventative measures during an emergency of coronavirus outbreak, in Peshawar Pakistan, Monday, March 3, 2020. Pakistani health officials reported coronavirus cases in Pakistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Coronavirus has appeared for the first time in New York, Moscow and Berlin and clusters of the disease have surged around the world, even as new cases in China dropped to their lowest level in six weeks.

Almost nine times more cases were reported outside China than inside it over the past 24 hours, according to the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

But the WHO’s chief of emergencies pointed out that even regions that have taken less aggressive measures than the extraordinary lockdowns implemented by Beijing have kept the virus in check.

Mike Ryan said that because Covid-19 is not as easily transmitted as flu, “it offers us a glimmer … that this virus can be suppressed and contained”.

The global death toll pushed past 3,000 on Monday, and the number of people infected topped 89,000, with fast-expanding outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that the world economy could contract this quarter for the first time since the international financial crisis more than a decade ago.

“Global economic prospects remain subdued and very uncertain,” the agency said.

In the US, the number of cases passed 90, and the country’s death toll reached six, all in Washington state.

Health officials said one of the latest victims was a man in his 70s from a nursing facility near Seattle, in a region where researchers believe the virus may have been circulating for weeks undetected.

In densely populated New York City, a health care worker who had returned from Iran was in quarantine at home, according to governor Andrew Cuomo. He said the city is ramping up preparations and cautioned against panic.

The virus has reached at least 10 states, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The fear, in my opinion, is outpacing reason at this point,” Mr Cuomo told CBS This Morning.

Malaysia, Tunisia, Senegal, Jordan and Portugal were among the newest places to detect the virus. More than 60 countries, including nine of the 10 most populous, have reported infections.

Even as alarms grew louder in much of the world, positive signs emerged from China, where the outbreak started two months ago.

China reported 202 new cases, its lowest daily count since January 21, and the city at the heart of the crisis, Wuhan, said 2,570 patients were released.

At the largest of 16 temporary hospitals that were rapidly built in Wuhan, worries over the availability of supplies and protective gear eased, along with pressure on medical staff.

Zhang Junjian, who leads a temporary hospital in Wuhan with 1,260 staff, said optimism is high that the facility will no longer be needed in the coming weeks.

A temporary hospital in Wuhan
A temporary hospital in Wuhan (Chinatopix/AP)

But in other places, problems continued to multiply.

South Korea, with the worst outbreak outside China, said it recorded 599 new cases on Monday, bringing the total to 4,335. The death toll rose to 26.

To cope, the country said hospitals will be reserved for patients with serious symptoms or pre-existing conditions, with mild cases routed to other designated facilities.

South Korea extended the shutdown of its schools for two more weeks to March 23, and the leader of a church blamed for being the source of the country’s largest cluster of infections bowed in apology.

“We also did our best but weren’t able to contain it fully,” said Lee Man-hee, the 88-year-old leader of the Shincheonji church, which some mainstream Christian groups reject as a cult.

In the Middle East, a worsening situation in Iran was accompanied by concern for its leaders after a member of the council that advises the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader died of Covid-19.

Central Tehran
Central Tehran (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran has confirmed 1,501 cases and 66 deaths, but many believe the true number is larger. Its caseload surged more than 250% in just 24 hours.

Major Shiite shrines in Iran remain open despite civilian authorities’ calls to close them. The holy cities of Mashad and Qom, where Shiites often touch and kiss shrines in a show of faith, have had high numbers of infections.

The Revolutionary Guard said it will install some mobile hospitals in response, and authorities have been cleaning the shrines and spraying down streets with disinfectant.

In Europe, leaders braced for worsening caseloads after the count surged in France, Italy and to a lesser degree Spain over the weekend.

Italy’s infections ballooned 50% in 24 hours to 1,694. Health officials in northern Italy sought to bring doctors out of retirement and accelerate nursing students’ graduations to help an overwhelmed public health system.

The Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, remained closed as its 2,300 workers expressed fears of contracting the virus from visitors arriving from all over the world.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s outstretched hand was rebuffed by her interior minister at a meeting.

PA