President Donald Trump urged Americans not to panic over the novel coronavirus Saturday after the first death on US soil was confirmed, even as France ramped up its security measures by cancelling all mass gatherings.
The virus has now hit 61 countries across the globe, prompting the World Health Organization to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.
Worldwide, more than 2,900 people have been killed and nearly 86,000 infected since it was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Its rapid spread beyond China’s borders in the past week has caused stock markets to sink to their lowest levels since the 2008 global financial crisis over fears the disease could wreak havoc on the world economy.
But global attention shifted Saturday to the United States, after authorities in the West Coast state of Washington confirmed the first fatality on American soil — and President Donald Trump hastily called a press conference to address fears.
“We’ve taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance. (…) There is no reason to panic at all.”
The fatality occurred in Washington state’s King county, which includes Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, health officials said.
The victim was not immediately identified.
“We will see more cases,” Health Secretary Alex Azar told the press conference.
“But it’s important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms.”
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Although the vast majority of infections have been in China, more daily cases are now logged outside the country. South Korea, Italy and Iran have emerged as hotspots.
The United States imposed new restrictions on anyone who has traveled in the last two weeks to Iran. It also urged Americans not to visit hard-hit areas of Italy and South Korea.
With the virus spreading quickly in some countries, France on Saturday cancelled all gatherings of 5,000 people or more in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
France’s latest restrictions came after 16 new cases were confirmed Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 73.
Sunday’s Paris half-marathon and an agricultural symposium were among the events hit.
South Korea, which has the most infected people outside China, reported its biggest surge in new cases on Saturday with 813 more patients confirmed, bringing its total to 3,150.
Italy, the hotspot of the outbreak in Europe, also reported a jump in new cases on Saturday, with its number of infections exceeding 1,000 and the death toll jumping by eight to 29.
In recent days, the epidemic spread to sub-Saharan Africa, and Qatar and Ecuador both confirmed their first cases on Saturday.
Chinese economy hit
Official data released in China on Saturday showed the extent of the damage caused to the world’s second-largest economy, with manufacturing activity falling to its lowest level on record as key industries ground to a standstill under drastic containment measures.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics said the auto and specialized equipment industries were hit hard.
Authorities in China have taken drastic steps to contain the virus, curbing the movement of people, temporarily closing factories across the country and quarantining central Hubei province, a key industrial region where the epidemic first appeared in December.
More global events have been disrupted due to the epidemic, with the United States delaying a regional summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations due in Las Vegas next month.
“This is not a time for panic. It is time to be prepared — fully prepared,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
South Korean cases
South Korea’s epidemic is centered in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, whose streets have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.
Three women in the Daegu area died of the illness, taking the national toll to 17, authorities said Saturday.
South Korea’s total is expected to rise further with the screening of more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country’s cases.