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Fear of ‘devastation’ for poor as virus cases near 100,000

Signs of the virus’ shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.

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South Korean army soldiers spray disinfectant at Daegu International Airport (Kim Joo-sung/Yonhap/AP)

South Korean army soldiers spray disinfectant at Daegu International Airport (Kim Joo-sung/Yonhap/AP)

South Korean army soldiers spray disinfectant at Daegu International Airport (Kim Joo-sung/Yonhap/AP)

The number of people infected with the new virus charged toward 100,000 on Friday, with the global scare upending routines, threatening livelihoods and prompting quarantines in its spread.

Asian shares were down following a rough day on Wall Street and the consequences of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, were becoming clear to people around the world.

Halted travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months to come.

“Who is going to feed their families?” asked Elias al-Arja, the head of a hotel owners’ union in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tourists have been banned and the Church of the Nativity shuttered.

The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Programme, warned of the potential of “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.

Across the West, there was a sense of deja vu as the virus’ spread prompted scenes that already played out in Asia, with workers leaving offices, vigorous sanitising in public places and runs on household basics.

Even the spectacle of a cruise ship ordered to stay at sea off the California coast over virus fears replicated that of a few weeks ago on the other side of the globe.

“The western world is now following some of China’s playbook,” said Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at the financial firm IG.

Coronavirus Palestinians
People visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Signs of the virus’ shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.

China reported 143 new cases Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago.

Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to one.

The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe, where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases, and beyond.

The second hardest-hit country, South Korea, was also registering a notable decline in new infections, and the World Health Organisation’s leader said he was seeing “encouraging signs” there.

South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday.

The country has touted its “remarkable diagnostic and treatment abilities”, but its vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said: “It’s not easy to make predictions about how the situation … would play out.”

Lebanon coronavirus
Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant in the departure terminal at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in Beirut (Hassan Ammar/AP)

Cases were increasing in Germany and France, but Italy remained the centre of Europe’s outbreak, particularly in its north.The country has had 148 fatalities, making it the deadliest site for the virus outside China.

The Italian government restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect older people who have been more vulnerable to succumbing to Covid-19.

But with schools closed nationwide, many grandparents were called to duty as last-minute babysitters anyway.

The Vatican said it was working with Italian authorities to keep the coronavirus from spreading in its tiny city-state, with a suspension of Pope Francis’ weekly audiences likely.

Iran’s government planned to set up checkpoints to limit travel and urged people to stop using paper money as the country has counted more than 3,500 cases and at least 107 deaths.

India coronavirus
An Indian social activist distributes masks to pedestrians in Hyderabad, India (Mahesh Kumar/AP)

And in the United States, more than 230 cases were stirring anxiety around the country, nowhere more than its northwestern corner in Washington state, where officials are so concerned about having space to care for the sick they were expected to close a deal on Friday to take over a roadside motel.

The plan to turn the 84-room EconoLodge into a quarantine facility was not sitting well with everyone, including the police chief in the town, who called it “ill-advised and dangerous” and warned security would be needed to keep people from leaving the hotel and infecting others.

To the south, on the Pacific coast, California National Guard paratroopers were hoisted down from a military helicopter to deliver virus test kits to the bow of the Grand Princess cruise ship.

The vessel, with 3,500 aboard, was ordered to stay at sea after a traveller from its previous voyage died and at least four others were infected.

The cruise line said samples were collected from 45 passengers and crew members and results were expected later Friday.

The Grand Princess is operated by the same line as the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined at a Japanese port last month. More than 700 people on board were infected.

PA