Novel coronavirus: Trump says US is ‘ready’ for outbreak as cases spread worldwide


World Health Organization (WHO) officials said Wednesday that for the first time, the number of daily cases reported outside China had exceeded the number those reported within the country where the outbreak began.

Since it was first identified in mid-December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the virus has killed 2,800 worldwide. Though the vast majority of those deaths have occurred in Hubei, the province at the center of the initial outbreak, new self-sustaining outbreaks are fast expanding in Iran, Italy and South Korea.

At the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission’s had recorded 78,497 cases in the mainland, and 2,744 deaths. Globally, 3,225 cases have now been confirmed outside of China, bringing the total number to 81,722.

The shift in focus from China to the rest of the world was further highlighted Wednesday, with the announcement that all passengers arriving in Beijing would be subject to a 14-day quarantine if they have recently traveled in affected countries.

‘Aggressive containment’

In Washington, US President Donald Trump announced a new team dedicated to tackling the virus, led by Vice President Mike Pence.

“Mike will be working with the professionals, doctors and everybody else that’s working,” Trump said, adding that Pence will report directly to him. “Because of all we’ve done (so far), the risk to the American people remains very low.”

“It is what it is. We’re ready for it. We’re really prepared,” the President continued. “We have, as I said, we have the greatest people in the world. We’re very ready for it. We hope it doesn’t spread. There’s a chance that it won’t spread, too. And there’s a chance that it will.”

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said the US should expect to see more cases of coronavirus.

“Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working, and it is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far,” she said. “However, we do expect more cases. And this is a good time to prepare.”

Trump’s speech comes after cases of the virus were confirmed in South America — they have now been reported in every continent but Antarctica.

In Europe, officials are working overtime to stop a continent-wide outbreak, as the situation in Italy continues to worsen. More than 400 cases have been reported in the Southern European nation, the majority of those in the northern Lombardy region. Sporting and social events across northern Italy have been canceled over fears of spreading the virus.

More than 18 cases of the virus have been confirmed in both Germany and France, while two French patients have died from the disease.

South Korea outbreak

In Asia, the worst outbreak beyond mainland China is in South Korea, where more than 1,595 cases have been reported, including 12 deaths.

That outbreak appears to have begun in the southern city of Daegu, where around 700 of the cases have been reported, but it has since spread throughout the country, bringing with it travel restrictions and emergency measures.

The South Korean government has also rolled out a new phone app, which requires travelers entering the country to self-diagnose themselves and report any possible symptoms.

Joint US-South Korea military drills were called off Thursday due to the outbreak, after multiple members of the military were diagnosed with the virus.

An American soldier infected with the virus is being treated at Camp Humphreys, near the city of Pyeongtaek, the headquarters of the United States Forces Korea (USFK).

The soldier has been placed in negative pressure isolation to prevent the virus spreading, and is being monitored by medical professionals, Camp Humphreys Commander Michael Tremblay said.

The soldier is a 23-year-old man and is the first American service member to be confirmed with coronavirus.

In the US, the Pentagon said late Wednesday that it was prohibiting all non-essential Department of Defense travel to South Korea due to the outbreak.

Worldwide spread

Pressure is now growing on officials in Japan over plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, events for which are due to begin next month.

Around 150 cases have been confirmed in Japan, in addition to the almost 700 cases confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which began disembarkation last week after 14-days of quarantine.

Tokyo 2020 officials said Thursday that they were not currently considering canceling the Olympic Torch relay, which begins on March 26, but will look into how to host it without increasing the risk of infection, including scaling down events and the number of spectators.

Speaking to CNN, Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, said the IOC has never had to deal with a possible pandemic and that “we are in daily if not hourly contact with the World Health Organization and the specialized agencies” to understand the facts and tendencies of the on-going coronavirus threat.

As for potential scenarios if the Games were indeed under threat, Pound suggested the Olympics could “be postponed for a few months, postponed for a year” if necessary or “dispersed in parcels around the world.”

“We’re not anywhere near that kind of decision making process,” he added.

Friday prayers have been canceled in Iran, after the worst outbreak in the Middle East saw a rapid spike in numbers this week.

Around 140 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Iran, and 19 deaths. Multiple neighboring countries have cut off travel to Iran, while Qatar has ordered the evacuation of citizens from the country, along with Kuwaitis who wish to leave Iran.

Sheikh Hamad al-Thank “issued directives to evacuate the citizens of the State of Qatar and citizens of the sisterly State of Kuwait, who are currently in Iran, due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus,” Qatari state media reported.

Pandemic fears rattle markets

The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far held off on classifying the coronavirus’ spread as a global pandemic, but the outbreak appears to be getting closer to meeting the global health body’s definition of one.

Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said Tuesday that the situation has met two of the criteria for a pandemic: “the fact that this virus has caused illness — including illness that has resulted in death — and sustained person-to-person spread.”

“As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer towards meeting the third criteria: worldwide spread of the new virus,” she said.

The situation has rattled global markets and led to concern about the long term economic impact of the virus, with the Dow posting major losses earlier this week, though the US market opened marginally higher Wednesday.

In a widely-criticized tweet Wednesday, Trump claimed that CNN and MSNBC “are doing everything possible to make the (virus) look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible.”

He later blamed the stock market downturn on the Democratic presidential debates.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting from Hong Kong; Steven Jiang and Shanshan Wang contributed reporting from Beijing; Ramin Mostaghim contributed reporting from Tehran; Sophie Jeong and Yoonjung Seo contributed reporting from Seoul; Angela Dewan contributed reporting from London; Nicola Ruotolo contributed reporting from Milan; and Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins, Lauren Fox, Claire Foran and Barbara Starr contributed reporting from Washington

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