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China and South Korea report more coronavirus cases as global fears rise

World News | Published:

Stock markets have dropped worldwide as the outbreak looms as a political threat to leaders such as Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.

A woman wearing a face mask

China and South Korea have reported more coronavirus cases as clusters of the disease grow in Europe and the Middle East and global concern increases.

Markets have been in decline around the world over virus fears, with Wall Street on Monday mirroring stock exchanges worldwide with a 1,000-plus point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The White House has called for an urgent injection of 2.5 billion dollar (£1.9 billion) in government funds to help combat the disease, while Washington is set to call off planned annual military exercises with South Korea.

In Beijing, China’s government postponed its most important political meetings of the year.

The National People’s Congress – due to run for two weeks in early March – and the meeting of its chief advisory body usually bring thousands of delegates to Beijing.

The decision indicated the importance President Xi Jinping places on the battle against the epidemic that has posed one of his biggest political challenges since he took control of the ruling Communist Party in 2012.

Italy China Outbreak Europe
A group of people, some wearing sanitary masks, take photos in central Milan on Monday. A total of 229 people in Italy’s north have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus (Claudio Furlan/AP)

Similarly, the coronavirus began to emerge as a political threat to Donald Trump in election year, as attacks ramped up in the US over his administration’s handling of the outbreak.

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China reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths on Tuesday, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December.

The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.

South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 893 and has had a near 15-fold increase in reported infections in a week, with 60 new cases reported on Tuesday.

As South Korea reported its eighth fatality, health workers continued to find batches in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas, where panic has brought towns to an eerie standstill.

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Philippines China Outbreak
Health authorities wear protective suits as they prepare for the disembarkation of Filipino crew members on board the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Yokohama, which suffered hundreds of cases of Covid-19. Some 400 Filipino crew members aboard the ship will be repatriated back to the Philippines on chartered flights (Department of Foreign Affairs/AP)

Clusters have also emerged in Iran and Italy, and there are concerns the new outbreaks could signal a serious new stage in the global spread of the illness.

Schools were closed in Iran for a second day, and daily sanitising of public buses and the Tehran metro, which is used by some three million people a day, was started.

In several countries that reported their first cases on Monday – Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, the infected patients had links with Iran.

Iraq and Afghanistan closed their borders with Iran in an effort to stop the further spread while Bahrain announced a 48-hour suspension of flights to and from Dubai, the world’s busiest international airport.

In Italy, where 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns as worries grew across the continent.

Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy and Slovenia and Croatia, popular getaways for Italians, were holding crisis meetings.

Schools were closed, theatre performances cancelled, and even Venice Carnival celebrations were called off.

Italian soldiers
Italian soldiers wearing sanitary masks patrol Duomo square in downtown Milan on Monday (Claudio Furlan/AP)

“These rapid developments over the weekend have shown how quickly this situation can change,” the health commissioner for the European Union, Stella Kyriakides, said in Brussels.

“We need to take this situation of course very seriously, but we must not give in to panic, and, even more importantly, to disinformation.”

After the large increase in cases of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – in several countries, the World Heath Organisation said the virus had the potential to cause a pandemic.

“The past few weeks has demonstrated just how quickly a new virus can spread around the world and cause widespread fear and disruption,” WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“(But) for the moment we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus.”

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