By David Stanway and Josh Smith
SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) – Asia reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including the first U.S. soldier to be infected, as the United States warned of an inevitable pandemic and outbreaks in Italy and Iran spread to other countries.
In the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that while the immediate risk there was low, the global situation suggested a pandemic was likely.
The disease is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 people, the vast majority in China.
Asian shares fell as the U.S. warning to Americans to prepare for a pandemic drove another Wall Street tumble and pushed yields on safe-haven Treasuries to record lows. [MKTS/GLOB]
In the past four trading sessions about $3 trillion has been wiped off the value of the MSCI World (), a market cap weighted stock market index of 1,644 stocks globally.
“Think the virus is going to show up tomorrow. If you don’t think that way, you’re not going to be ready,” Dr Bruce Aylward, head of a joint WHO-Chinese mission on the outbreak, told reporters on return to Geneva.
Aylward said China’s “extraordinary mobilization” to handle the outbreak showed how an aggressive public health policy, including large quarantines, could curb its spread.
The U.S. CDC alerted Americans to begin preparing for the virus in an announcement that signaled a change in tone for the agency, which had largely been focused on efforts to stop the virus from entering the country.
“It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when and how many people will be infected,” the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, said on Tuesday.
The United States has reported 57 cases of the virus.
China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported another 406 new infections on Wednesday, down from 508 a day earlier and bringing the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 78,064. Its death toll rose by 52 to 2,715.
South Korea, which with nearly 1,000 cases has the most outside China, reported 169 new ones including a U.S. soldier, as authorities readied an ambitious plan to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the center of the outbreak.
Of the new cases, 134 were from Daegu city, where the virus is believed to have been passed among members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
The U.S. military said a 23-year-old soldier based in Camp Carroll, about 20 km (12.4 miles) from Daegu, had been infected. The camp is also near a disability center that has had an outbreak.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for sports and cultural events to be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks to stem the virus as concern mounted for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Japan has 164 virus cases and 691 linked to a quarantined cruise ship docked south of Tokyo.
HOTELS LOCKED DOWN
There have been nearly 50 deaths outside China, including 11 in Italy and 16 in Iran, the most outside China, according to a Reuters tally.
Iran’s deputy health minister – seen mopping his brow at a televised news conference – was among the infected.
Kuwait said it had two new coronavirus cases, among people returning from Iran, taking its tally to 11. Cases linked to Iran have been reported elsewhere in the region, including Afghanistan.
In Europe, Italy has become a front line in the global outbreak with 322 cases. Italians or people who had recently visited the country, have tested positive in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Romania, Spain and Switzerland.
Two hotels, one in Austria and one in Spain’s Canary islands, were also locked down after cases emerged linked to Italy.
Austria sealed off the 108-room Grand Hotel Europa in the Alpine tourist hub of Innsbruck after an Italian receptionist tested positive.
A similar story was unfolding at the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in Tenerife on the Canary Islands, which was locked down on Tuesday after an Italian couple were found to be infected. Spain also reported its first three cases of the disease on the mainland.
The WHO says the outbreak peaked in China around Feb. 2, after Beijing isolated central Hubei province and imposed other extreme containment measures that have paralyzed the world’s second-biggest economy.
Beijing is now urging “low-risk” regions to get back to work.
Chinese stocks recouped some losses as new virus cases fell but the effects of the outbreak are reverberating beyond China with most major economies in the region expected to either slow down significantly, halt or shrink this quarter, Reuters polls found.
Forecasts from economists collected by Reuters on Feb. 19-25 showed that Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand are all expected to put in their worst performance in years in the first quarter.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)