Coronavirus Live Updates: W.H.O. Warns Outbreak Has ‘Pandemic Potential’ – The New York Times

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageA pharmacist sells gloves to a customer in Tehran, on Thursday.

Credit…Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

The steady global march of the new coronavirus outbreak transformed into a fierce gallop over the past 48 hours, more than a dozen countries recorded their first confirmed cases and the world’s leading health official warned of a coming pandemic.

“This virus has pandemic potential,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization on Thursday. “We are actually in a very delicate situation in which the outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it.”

The warning came hours before the first cases were confirmed on Friday New Zealand and in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

More than 83,000 people in at least 47 countries have been infected. More new cases have been recently reported outside China, where the outbreak began in December, than within in the country. China enforced a lock down of 700 million people to control the spread of the virus.

Japan closed its schools for at least a month. Iran canceled Friday Prayers in major cities. Saudi Arabia barred pilgrims from its holiest sites.

“This is not a time for fear,” Dr. Tedros said. But markets panicked anyway.

Global markets looked set to tumble for a seventh consecutive day on Friday, after the S&P 500 fell 4.4 percent on Thursday, the worst single-day slide for the benchmark since August 2011.

As new cases emerged in countries as diverse as Nigeria and Norway, the bulk of the infections outside China centered on three hot spots — South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Dr. Tedros called the moment a “decisive point” in combatting the epidemic. “This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now.”

Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak

The virus has infected more than 83,300 people in China and at least 45 other countries.

Nigeria on Friday confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country, raising fears of how the disease could wreak havoc in Africa’s most populous nation and across the continent.

  • Answers to your most common questions:

    Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.

The case was confirmed by the Federal Ministry of Health and was the first confirmed infection in sub-Saharan Africa.

The health ministry said the patient was an Italian citizen who returned on Feb. 25 to Lagos, the country’s largest city, after visiting Milan. The Nigerian government said in a statement that the unnamed patient was “clinically stable,” and did not have “serious symptoms” and was being treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos.

Despite the steady number of flights and the growing relationship between China and African countries, the only previously confirmed infections on the continent had been in Egypt and Algeria.

“I wish to assure all Nigerians that have we have been beefing up our preparedness capabilities since the first confirmation of cases in China, and we will use all the resources made available by the government to respond to this case,” Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s minister of health, said in a statement.

Global markets looked set to tumble for a seventh consecutive day on Friday. Markets in Tokyo were down about 3 percent early in the day, while shares in Shanghai and Hong Kong opened about 2 percent lower.

Futures markets suggested worries might ease later Friday, but sentiment has tended to worsen later in the trading day, particularly as the virus’s spread has accelerated in Europe.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 fell 4.4 percent, the worst single-day slide for the market since August 2011. The benchmark index fell more than 10 percent in just over a week, reflecting rising fears over the coronavirus spreading quickly around the world.

Stocks in Europe and Asia were also hard hit on Thursday.

The sell-off came after infection figures in Europe and the Middle East continued to soar and after public health officials in the United States and Germany said new patients in each country had no known connection to others with the illness. That complicates efforts to track the virus, isolate infected people and keep the virus from spreading further.

The speed of the slump has been stunning, with the S&P 500 falling more than 10 percent from its Feb. 19 high, a drop that Wall Street labels a market correction to suggest the decline is more significant than a few days of downbeat trading.

The last time stocks in the United States fell more than 10 percent was late 2018, when investors worried that the trade war and rising interest rates might tip the U.S. economy into a recession. The Dow Jones industrial average also fell into a correction on Thursday, as did shares in London.

The number of people infected with the coronavirus in South Korea shot up to 2,022 on Friday, as officials struggled to get a handle on the outbreak, which has also become a political crisis for the country’s leader, Moon Jae-in.

Since Mr. Moon raised the epidemic alert to its highest level on Sunday, the government has sent score of health workers to Daegu, the center of the largest outbreak outside of China. Nearly 85 percent of the cases in South Korea have been found among members of a large, shadowy church in the city.

Although smaller outbreaks have popped up in other cities across South Korea, including Seoul, the capital, health officials said that their war against the virus hinged largely on how quickly they can win the battle in Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city with 2.4 million people.

In Daegu, health officials’ most urgent job has been to test nearly 1,300 members of the Shincheonji Church, who have reported potential symptoms of the virus, as well as those people with whom they have been in contact.

In the past few days, workers have tested up to 1,000 people a day, accounting for the sharp rise in the daily tally of patients.

“We have not finished our testing of Shincheonji worshipers in Daegu yet and as the statistics from there reach us, you will see daily increases in the number of patients,” said Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a sign of the epidemic’s toll on business activity, including the entertainment industry, the K-pop supergroup BTS canceled a series of upcoming concerts on Friday.

The coronavirus “outbreak has made it impossible at this time to predict the scale of the outbreak during the dates of the concert in April,” the boy band said in a statement.

The medical journal The Lancet has retracted an appeal for international help for Chinese medical workers after the article’s two authors said it was not a first-hand account.

The letter published earlier this week on the journal’s website claimed to speak on behalf of a group of professional nurses who traveled to Wuhan to work in hospitals treating patients with the coronavirus.

But The Lancet said in a statement dated Wednesday that it had been contacted by the two authors, Yingchun Zeng and Yan Zhen. The Lancet said it was told that the account they described was not based on their own experience and “they wished to withdraw the piece.”

The Lancet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter was striking for its direct challenge to the official narrative in state media that the situation in Wuhan was improving. It described the physical and mental toll of the work and detailed a severe shortage of protective equipment.

“We are asking nurses and medical staff from countries around the world to come to China now, to help us in this battle,” the letter read. “In addition to the physical exhaustion, we are also suffering psychologically. While we are professional nurses, we are also human.”

Detailed information about the situation in Wuhan and hospitals across China is hard to come by. China’s censorship machine has tightened its grip on social media accounts of nurses fainting and doctors complaining of limited resources. In Hubei Province, the heart of the epidemic, nurses and doctors have pleaded for more masks. Many have since been directed by local authorities not to speak to the media.

Hundreds of medical workers have been infected, authorities have since said, and several have died.

The New York Times was not able to reach Ms. Zeng or Ms. Zhen. The Third Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, where Ms. Zeng works, said in an email on Thursday the researcher “has never been to Wuhan to fight the epidemic,” and cited an editors’ note from The Lancet about the reasons for the retraction.

Federal government health workers were not given proper medical training or protective gear when they were sent to assist Americans who had been quarantined for possible exposure to the coronavirus, according to a whistle-blower complaint.

Staff members entered quarantine areas at Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base in California, interacted with the people who were in isolation and then moved freely around and off the bases, the complaint said.

The whistle-blower, described as a senior leader at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at least one worker stayed in a nearby hotel and left California on a commercial flight.

Many of the health workers were unaware of the need to test their temperatures three times a day, the person said. The complaint was submitted to the Office of the Special Counsel, and a portion was obtained by The New York Times.

The employees were not given training in safety protocols until five days after they were ordered into quarantined areas, including a hangar where evacuees from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere were being received, the whistle-blower said.

The first U.S. case of coronavirus infection in a patient with no known risk factors — travel to a hot zone or contact with another person known to be infected — emerged this week near Travis Air Force Base.

In a statement on Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged the complaint, saying, “We take all whistle-blower complaints very seriously.”

The stands didn’t fill and the crowd didn’t roar, but there was an important soccer match scheduled in Milan, Italy, on Thursday so Internazionale, the home team, and Ludogorets, the visitors from Bulgaria, set aside their fears about the coronavirus and dutifully went about playing each other.

Italian health officials had set the bizarre stage for the game by ordering the stadium closed to spectators. In Italy, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases soared past 600 this week, the authorities have restricted public gatherings in an attempt the slow the spread of the outbreak.

But the Europa League schedule was inflexible, and so the round-of-32 game went on, with only the players’ shouts, the coaches’ instructions and the referee’s whistle as a soundtrack.

New York City officials said on Thursday they had a possible coronavirus patient and were sending a sample for testing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The patient had respiratory symptoms and had recently traveled in Italy, which has emerged as a hub of the coronavirus, health officials said.

Health officials said the patient was under 50, but provided few other biographical details. This was the first suspected case in New York City since the C.D.C. expanded its testing criteria to account for the spread of the virus in a number of countries beyond China, including Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.

New York City has had no confirmed cases of the virus so far. Seven patients had previously been deemed potential cases, only to be ruled out after testing.

Reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Abdi Latif Dahir, Choe Hang-Sun, Alexandra Stevenson, Andrew Das, Jamal Jordan, Heather Casey, Joseph Goldstein, Jesse McKinley and Ian Austen.

Continue reading