Coronavirus spreads in Europe, Middle East

 

Coronavirus cases have risen in Italy and spread to the Middle East even as China eased restrictions after no new infections were reported in Beijing and other cities.

Fears of a global pandemic have sent markets into a tailspin, with European equities markets suffering their biggest slump since mid-2016.

However China's actions to lock down affected areas, especially in Wuhan, have probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, the head of the World Health Organisation delegation in China said.

"They're at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in," Bruce Aylward said on Monday.

The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global markets as investors fled to safe havens.

European equities markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high and oil tumbled nearly 5.0 per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrials dove to a two-month low while the S&P; 500 and Nasdaq were at their lowest in three weeks on Monday, all off by more than 3.0 per cent.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said using the word "pandemic" did not fit the facts.

"We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic," he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.

The epidemic in China peaked between January 23 and February 2 and has been declining since, the WHO said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking in Geneva, said it was still possible to contain the disease.

But he cautioned, "if some do not do everything that is needed, this can still become out of control with dramatic consequences in global health and the global economy".

The White House is considering asking lawmakers for emergency funding to ramp up its response to the fast-spreading virus, a White House spokesman said.

"We need some funding here to make sure that we ... protect all Americans, that we keep us safe," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News Channel.

Liang Wannian of China's National Health Commission said while the rapid spread had been halted, the situation was still grim.

He said over 3000 medical staff were infected, most in Hubei province surrounding Wuhan, probably due to the lack of protective gear and because of fatigue.

Excluding Hubei, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide daily figures on January 20.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2500 in China, most of them in Hubei.

Overall, China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of February 23.

The death toll rose by 150 to 2592.

But there was a measure of relief for the world's second-largest economy as more than 20 province-level jurisdictions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero new infections.

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to some 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

South Korea reported 231 new cases, taking its total to 833.

Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran, where the toll was 12 dead and 61 infected.

Europe's biggest outbreak is in Italy, with some 150 infections - compared with just three before Friday - and a sixth death.

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