World battles virus as new cases outside China top those within

As infections multiply outside China, countries around the world scramble to contain fast-spreading outbreak.

    Market workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in South Korea's Daegu [Yonhap/AFP]
    Market workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in South Korea's Daegu [Yonhap/AFP]

    Countries around the world are scrambling to contain the rapidly spreading new coronavirus, with Brazil confirming Latin America's first case, as the number of new infections outside China exceeded those recorded inside the country for the first time since the start of the viral outbreak.

    Officially known as COVID-19, the disease has so far killed more 2,700 people and infected more than 81,000 in 44 countries and territories, with the vast majority of cases remaining in China.

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    But the World Health Organization (WHO) put the number of new cases in China at 411 on Tuesday while those registered outside the country, where the deadly virus first emerged in late December, stood at 427.

    "Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

    As the outbreak expanded its footprint worldwide, China announced on Wednesday that people arriving in its capital, Beijing, from other countries hit by the virus epidemic will go into 14-day self-quarantine.

    Meanwhile, Brazil confirmed Latin America's first case, a 61-year-old who travelled to northern Italy, a region that has emerged as the coronavirus hotspot in Europe.

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    Greece also confirmed its first case on Wednesday, a woman who had been in northern Italy, while Spain, Croatia, Austria, North Macedonia and Algeria have all reported cases linked to the country.

    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy - which has at least 374 cases and 12 deaths - particularly to the outbreak epicentre in the north.

    German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country is at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic after the emergence of new cases which can no longer be traced to the virus's original source in China.

    Still, the European Union sought to head off hysteria over the outbreak.

    "This is a situation of concern, but we must not give in to panic," EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters in Rome on Wednesday.

    "We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation," she added.

    In the Middle East, where Iran has emerged as a major hotspot with a total of at least 139 cases and 19 deaths, several countries have announced measures to cut links with it in a bid to stop the virus spread.

    Iranian authorities also announced domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus.

    "Instead of quarantining cities, we are going to implement movement restrictions for those suspected of infection or those infected," Health Minister Saeed Namaki said during a televised news conference.

    Separately, Iran's cyberpolice on Wednesday said 24 people were arrested for rumour-mongering about the outbreak, warning people not to "disturb the public" with misinformation.

    In Asia, South Korea remains the worst-affected country after China, with the outbreak traced to a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu.

    The city's streets have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.

    South Korea reported 284 new infections on Wednesday - its largest daily increase to date - taking the overall national tally to 1,261, with the death toll rising to 12.

    Authorities urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay at home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.

    Events cancelled

    The effect of the virus has also been felt in markets worldwide, though Wall Street stocks jumped back on Wednesday, while sports matches and festivals across Europe have been cancelled over virus fears.

    A March 7 rugby match between Italy and Ireland in Dublin was called off Wednesday, while the famed Venice Carnival was closed early over the weekend.

    In Japan, the country's sumo governing body said it will hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to go ahead with a major tournament in Osaka scheduled to start on March 8.

    But organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics said preparations are "continuing as planned".

    In the United States, President Donald Trump lashed out at the media for making the new coronavirus "look as bad as possible," as his administration drew ire for its preparedness for an outbreak in the country that health officials said is inevitable.

    More than 50 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the US, including those passengers who were evacuated from a quarantined cruise ship off Japan.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies