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Coronavirus spread accelerates in Middle East, Europe and South Korea

The World Health Organisation says outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are the agency’s greatest concern.

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The coronavirus has spread to more countries (AP/Ahn Young-joon)

The coronavirus has spread to more countries (AP/Ahn Young-joon)

The coronavirus has spread to more countries (AP/Ahn Young-joon)

Outbreaks of the coronavirus strain known as Covid-19 are gathering pace in the Middle East, Europe and South Korea.

World Health Organisation (WHO) leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are the agency’s greatest concern and the virus is uniquely capable of community transmission but could be contained with the right measures.

In South Korea, Covid-19 cases increased on Tuesday, with 477 new infections reported, largely in and around the south-eastern city of Daegu, where many cases were clustered around a local church. In total, 4,812 in South Korea have tested positive for the virus.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The country’s death toll rose to 28 and President Moon Jae-in said his government would push to inject more than 30 trillion won (£19.5 billion) to fund clinics, aid for small businesses and other measures related to the virus. It requires parliamentary approval.

He said “the entire country has entered a war against an infectious disease”.

Meanwhile, the G7 major economies have pledged to use “all appropriate tools” to deal with the spreading coronavirus, but announced no immediate actions.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the group said it was “ready to take actions, including fiscal measures where appropriate, to aid in the response to the virus and support the economy”.

The joint statement from the US, UK, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada was issued after a conference call among the finance ministers and central bank presidents, led by US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and federal reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

The G7 has issued similar statements during periods of market turmoil, such as the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

It said: “Given the potential impacts of Covid-19 on global growth, we reaffirm our commitment to use all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth and safeguard against downside risks.”

Markets have been looking for a strong immediate response that would include coordinated rate cuts by central banks. US markets, which had been gyrating, went negative.

Investors are looking for the Fed to cut rates by their next meeting on March 17-18, and possibly beforehand.

Shares on most Asian stock markets rose for a second day, following the Dow Jones Industrial Average surging nearly 1,300 points, or 5%.

“The fear factor is still very high,” said Kirk Hartman, president of Wells Fargo Asset Management.

In China, the count of new virus cases is dropping, with just 125 new cases after a six-week low of 202 a day earlier. It is still by far the hardest-hit country, with 80,151 cases and 2,943 deaths. The virus has been detected in at least 70 countries with 90,000 cases and 3,100 deaths.

In Iran, WHO experts arrived to help local health workers and deliver supplies. France, Germany and the United Kingdom said they would urgently fly test supplies, protective body suits and gloves to Iran, and offered about 5 million euro (£4.3 million) in support.

Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, said some people were stockpiling medical supplies for profit, and urged prosecutors to show “no mercy for hoarders”.

“Hoarding sanitising items is playing with people’s lives and it is not ignorable,” Mr Raisi said.

People wearing face masks in Tehran
Iranian officials have warned people against stockpiling medical supplies (AP/Vahid Salemi)

In Italy, the count of infected people continued rising to 2,036 and officials said it could take up to two weeks to know whether measures including quarantines in 11 northern towns were working.

The US count of Covid-19 cases surpassed 100 in 11 states. President Donald Trump and his cabinet met with pharmaceutical executives on Monday to discuss how to speed up the search for a vaccine. Aides in the US Congress said negotiations were nearing completion on an emergency funding bill to fund a vaccine development and offer disaster loans to businesses hurt by the crisis.

In Japan, questions continued to build about how the virus might affect the Olympics.

Chinese athletes have already fanned out of their country, with the table tennis team in Qatar, the women’s basketball team in Croatia and wrestlers in Serbia.

The games are set to open in Tokyo on July 24 and the president of the International Olympic Committee said the organisation remained committed to going forward as planned.

PA