Global coronavirus cases exceed 100,000 as death toll surges

By Matt Sedensky, Associated Press

The coronavirus outbreak has hit a new milestone as figures suggest more than 100,000 people across the world have been infected.

The virus, which has killed more than 3,400 people, edged into more US states and emerged in at least four new countries including the Vatican.

It forced mosques in Iran and beyond to halt weekly Muslim prayers, blocked pilgrims from Jesus’s birthplace in Bethlehem and upended Japan’s plans for the Olympic torch parade.

As financial markets dived again, repercussions from the virus also rattled livelihoods in the real economy.

(PA Graphics)

“Who is going to feed their families?” asked Elias al-Arja, 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 was shut.

At the White House, US President Donald Trump signed a 8.3 billion dollar (£6.3 billion) bill to fight the coronavirus a day after Italy said it would double its anti-virus spending to 7.5 billion euros (£5.75 billion).

In Geneva, the UN health agency said it had received applications for 40 possible virus tests, had 20 vaccine candidates in development and reported that numerous clinical trials of experimental drugs for Covid-19 were under way.

“We’re all in this together. We all have a role to play,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organisation, urging more global cooperation from the business world and solidarity with the poorest.

Yet even as Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, reached 90 countries, more than half of those who contracted the virus have now recovered. It is retreating in China, where it first emerged, and in nearby South Korea.

China reported just 99 new cases in its daily update on Saturday, the first time it has had only a double digit increase since January 20, and also reported another 28 deaths.

Overall, China now counts 22,177 patients currently in treatment, while it has released 55,404.

South Korea on Saturday morning reported 174 new cases.

Questions swirled around whether Iran could control its outbreak, as the number of reported infections jumped beyond 4,700 on Friday, with 124 deaths. Iran set up checkpoints to limit travel and had firefighters spray disinfectant on an 11-mile stretch of Tehran’s most famous avenue.

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

“It would be great if they did it every day,” grocery store owner Reza Razaienejad said. “It should not be just a one-time thing.”

The 100,000 figure of global infections is largely symbolic, but dwarfs other major outbreaks in recent decades, such as SARS, MERS and Ebola.

The virus is still much less widespread than annual flu epidemics, which result in up to 5 million annual severe cases around the world and from 290,000 to 650,000 deaths annually, according to the WHO.

But the epidemic’s economic impact snowballed, with world stocks and the price of oil dropping sharply again on Friday.

The decline in travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months.

In response to plummeting demand, German airline Lufthansa announced a reduction of its capacity in coming weeks to as much as 50% of pre-coronavirus outbreak levels. Slovakia banned all flights to and from Italy.

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

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

India scrambled to stave off an epidemic that could overwhelm its under-funded, under-staffed health care system, which lacks enough labs or hospitals for its 1.3 billion people.

“We’re seeing more countries affected with lower incomes, with weaker health systems and that’s more concerning,” WHO chief Mr Ghebreyesus said.

WHO officials warned against having “false hopes” that the virus could fade away when warmer summer temperatures come to northern countries.

“Every day we slow down the epidemic is another day governments can prepare their health workers to detect, test, treat and care for patients,” the WHO chief told reporters. “Every day we slow down the epidemic is another day closer to having vaccines and therapeutics, which can, in turn, prevent infections and save lives.”