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Global death toll from coronavirus rises as China cases fall, airports to increase screenings

10:09 | 03/03/2020

The novel coronavirus appears to now be spreading much more rapidly outside China than within, and airports in hard-hit countries were ramping up screening of travellers.

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People wear protective face masks as they take their lunch breaks at the financial Central district, following the outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The death toll from the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in the United States climbed to six on Monday (Mar 2) as the contagion took root in the country's Pacific Northwest and continued its march across the globe.

Worldwide, more than 3,100 people have succumbed to the illness even as a clear shift in the crisis was emerging, with nine times as many cases recorded outside China as inside, according to the UN health agency.

China reported 125 new virus cases on Tuesday, marking the lowest number of new daily infections in six weeks.

There were also 31 more deaths, the National Health Commission reported - all in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, raising the nationwide toll to 2,943.

Wuhan itself, at the center of the epidemic, shut the first of 16 specially built hospitals that were hurriedly put up to treat coronavirus cases, the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun at a news conference said: “We definitely believe that with the coming of spring we’re not far from the coming of the victory of the final defeat of COVID-19.”

Andorra, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Jordan, Latvia, Portugal, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia were among countries that confirmed their first cases, along with Senegal, which became the second sub-Saharan African country to do so.

All of the US deaths have occurred in the state of Washington, where officials warned residents the battle against the disease was shifting from containment to mitigation.

"The risk for all of us of becoming infected will be increasing," said Jeff Duchin, a health officer in King County where five of the deaths occurred. The district is home to Seattle, a city with a population of more than 700,000 people.

Earlier in the day, New York's governor warned it was "inevitable" that the virus would spread in the global financial hub after its first confirmed case was detected in a health care worker who had visited Iran.

President Donald Trump meanwhile was meeting with leading pharmaceutical companies at the White House to discuss efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Despite its world-class hospitals and medical professionals, the US is also viewed as vulnerable to an epidemic because of glaring disparities in its health care system, including nearly 28 million people without coverage.

Vice President Mike Pence said that within 12 hours, airports across South Korea and Italy will screen all travellers for COVID-19. Pence, who has been put in charge of the US response to the outbreak, also said US travel restrictions may expand.

global death toll from coronavirus rises as china cases fall airports to increase screenings
South Korea's case numbers are expected to rise further as authorities carry out checks on more than 260,000 people associated Shincheonji. AFP/Jung Yeon-je

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

With fears of a pandemic on the rise after the virus emerged in China late last year, the World Health Organization urged countries to stock up on critical care ventilators to treat patients with severe symptoms.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a "window of opportunity" remained to contain the outbreak, noting that "more than 130 countries have not detected any cases yet."

Globally, the virus has infected nearly 90,000 people in more than 60 countries.

Italy, Europe's worst-affected country with around 1,700 infections, said on Monday its deaths from the virus had jumped 18 to 52.

There are now 157 confirmed cases in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute disease control agency said on Monday - up from 129 the previous day, with Berlin reporting its first infection.

The outbreak has raised fears for the world economy, with the OECD slashing its global growth forecast by half a percentage point to 2.4 per cent, the worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis.

But strength on Wall Street - which rebounded from sharp losses last week to post gains of more than five per cent on Monday - helped European markets emerge from the red after governments and central banks said they would step in if needed to soften the blow.

China's economy has ground to a halt with large swathes of the country under quarantine or subject to strict travel restrictions.

Other countries have enacted their own containment measures including travel restrictions, locking down towns and suspending major events.

The Louvre - the world's most visited museum - was closed on Sunday and Monday after staff refused to work while the UN headquarters in Geneva said it was closing to visitors.

In Italy, tourist hotpots including the Duomo in Milan reopened to visitors but access was limited to avoid overcrowding in a bid to contain the virus.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden barred flights from Iran while France, Germany and Britain said they would send aid to the Middle Eastern nation struggling to contain the outbreak.

Iran reported 12 more deaths on Monday, raising the country's toll to 66, the second biggest after China's, while its overall number of cases rose to 1,501.

Two more service personnel and a civilian worker for the military tested positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the military to 31 early Tuesday, the South Korea’s defense ministry said.

Of the total, 17 are in the Army, 11 in the Air Force, two in the Marine Corps and one in the Navy, the ministry said, adding that 27 of the total are active-duty soldiers.

As of midnight Tuesday, South Korea reported 4,812 virus patients, with nearly 75 percent of cases occurring in Daegu. Taken together with cases in North Gyeongsang Province, the figure rises to 90 percent, Yonhap reported.

The WHO says the virus appears to particularly hit people over the age of 60 and those already weakened by other illnesses. Its mortality rate is between 2 and 5 per cent./.

VNF/AFP/Reuters/Yonhap