WHO raises global virus risk to maximum level

The virus has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 83,000 worldwide. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 29 February 2020

WHO raises global virus risk to maximum level

  • Oil prices also dived four percent to their lowest levels for more than a year
  • China reported 44 more deaths on Friday

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Friday raised its global risk assessment of the new coronavirus to its highest level after the epidemic spread to sub-Saharan Africa and caused financial markets to plunge.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the risk was being raised to “very high” because of the continued increase in cases and the number of new countries affected in recent days.
These developments “are clearly of concern,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva.
But he added: “We still have a chance of containing this virus, if robust action is taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients and trace contacts.”
The virus has proliferated around the globe over the past week, emerging on every continent except Antarctica, prompting many governments and businesses to try to stop people traveling or gathering in crowded places.
Switzerland became the latest country to announce drastic measures on Friday, saying all events with more than 1,000 participants would be suspended until March 15.
The ban forced the cancelation of the Geneva International Motor Show — a major item on the global auto industry calendar — that was due to start next week.
Carnival celebrations, rock concerts and a major watchmaking trade show also had to be scrapped.
The virus has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 83,000 worldwide — the vast majority in China — since it emerged apparently from an animal market in a central Chinese city in late December.
The number of deaths and new infections has been tapering off in China, following unprecedented quarantine efforts locking down tens of millions of people in the worst-hit cities.
But infections elsewhere have started to surge, with Iran, Italy and South Korea becoming the major new hotspots and cases being confirmed in around 50 countries.
“We see a number of countries struggling with containment,” said Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program.
The WHO has voiced particular concern about Africa’s preparedness, warning that the continent’s health care systems were ill-equipped to respond to a COVID-19 epidemic.
Cases had previously been reported in Egypt and Algeria, but not in the sub-Saharan region until Friday when Nigeria reported its first case: an Italian man in densely populated Lagos.
Stock markets around the world have plummeted this week as it has become increasingly clear the virus will take a huge toll on the global economy.
“Stock markets are well on their way to their worst week since the global financial crisis,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda trading group.
Several companies have said they expect the virus to hit their earnings because of weaker demand.
Oil prices also dived four percent to their lowest levels for more than a year, with Brent oil for April delivery sinking as low as $50.05 a barrel.
Analysts have warned that China, the world’s second largest economy, will see a major cut in growth this quarter as the country remains largely paralyzed by quarantines and containment measures.
Still, signs in China offered hope that the outbreak could be contained.
China reported 44 more deaths on Friday, raising its toll to 2,788, with 327 new cases — the lowest daily figure for new infections in more than a month.
The main concern for health officials is outside of China, with governments this week forced into increasingly drastic measures in an attempt to battle spiralling epidemics.

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The biggest death toll outside China is in Iran, where 34 people have died.
As elsewhere, the virus has mostly killed the elderly or people who had other health conditions.
South Korea also now has the most cases outside China, with more than 2,000 infections and 13 deaths.
The virus has had wide-ranging impact, even forcing K-pop megastars BTS to cancel four Seoul concerts due in April.
In Japan, the health ministry said a British man who was on board a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo had died, bringing the death toll to six.
The unidentified man’s death is the latest linked to infections on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where more than 700 other people tested positive for the illness.
The death comes as the governor of Japan’s rural northern island of Hokkaido urged people to stay at home this weekend in a desperate effort to contain the outbreak.
In Europe, the largest epicenter is Italy with 650 cases and 17 deaths — mostly in cities in the north.
Wide-ranging measures to halt the spread of the virus have affected tens of millions of people in northern Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events canceled.
Experts said the virus had probably “circulated unnoticed for several weeks” before the first confirmed cases — possibly since January.
Belarus, Denmark, Iceland, Lithuania, Mexico and New Zealand were the latest countries to report new cases.


Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

Updated 38 min 38 sec ago

Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

  • Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm
  • Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients

PARIS:  Paris officials announced Tuesday that they would ban daytime jogging to keep people from bending anti-coronavirus lockdown rules, after France recorded its biggest daily jump in the death toll from the outbreak.
Under nationwide stay-at-home orders that came into force on March 17, people can leave their homes only for essential purposes, which until now included a solo walk or run within a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) radius of home.
But amid a spell of sunny spring weather, large groups of Parisians were seen running, walking and congregating over the weekend, even as police stepped up patrols and issued fines for lockdown violations.
Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm.
Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Monday urged municipal officials to toughen restrictions if necessary.
“Every excursion avoided aids the fight against the epidemic,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and police chief Didier Lallement said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the Atlantic coastal resort city of Biarritz limited the period people can sit on benches or in other public areas to two minutes maximum, saying confinement meant that “dawdling is prohibited.”
Paris, Biarritz and other cities have already closed public parks and gardens as part of the nationwide lockdown that requires people to carry a document justifying any excursion from the home.
Those caught without the document risk a fine starting at €135 ($147).
In the north of France, the mayor of Marcq-en-Baroeul has made spitting in public, coughing or sneezing without covering one’s face, and throwing used masks and gloves in the street punishable by a fine of 68 euros.
The tougher rules came after Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Monday a record daily coronavirus death toll of 833 people in 24 hours.
“It is not over,” the minister said, urging people to “stay at home and continue this confinement effort.”
Like many other nations, France debated Tuesday the merits of encouraging, or compelling, people to wear face masks to prevent asymptomatic virus-carriers from passing it on to others.
Veran said Tuesday that it remained an “open question” that required further scientific investigation.
France’s Academy of Medicine, which advises the government on epidemics, has advocated mask-wearing as an aid in curbing the outbreak, but international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) disagree.
But Hidalgo said in a radio interview Tuesday that she would not oblige face mask use for now, though she did encourage people to cover their faces in public.
France’s finance ministry, meanwhile, said dozens of companies have produced 3.9 million fabric masks for non-medical professional use in the past week, and will produce 6.6 million more in the days to come.
The country’s Order of Pharmacists and two labor unions urged the government, meanwhile, to allow pharmacies to sell “alternative” non-medical grade masks to members of the public as an added protection.
The WHO said Monday that asking the general public to wear face masks could be justified in areas where hand-washing and physical distancing were difficult, but warned that masks alone could not stop the pandemic.