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WHO raises Covid-19 global risk assessment to 'very high', its highest level

Global investors nevertheless ran scared, with world markets suffering their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

People wearing surgical masks in Central Hong Kong.
People wearing surgical masks in Central Hong Kong.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE WORLD HEALTH Organisation last night raised its global risk assessment of the new coronavirus to its highest level after the epidemic spread to sub-Saharan Africa and financial markets slumped.

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 from travelling or gathering in crowded places.

It has killed more than 2,900 people and infected over 85,000 worldwide — the vast majority in China — since it emerged apparently from an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.

But it is its rapid spread to new zones that has authorities concerned — in the past 24 hours, it has affected nine new countries, from Azerbaijan to Mexico to New Zealand.

“We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities. As long as that’s the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus.

Global investors nevertheless ran scared, with world markets suffering their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

The chair of the US Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said the central bank stood at the ready to intervene if needed, given the “evolving” risks to the world’s largest economy posed by the deadly outbreak.

New drastic measures were put in place: Switzerland cancelled all gatherings of more than 1,000 people, and Saudi Arabia banned Gulf citizens from its holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

“This is not a time for panic. It is time to be prepared — fully prepared,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

‘Struggling with containment’

Those efforts come as 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 the WHO’s health emergencies programme.

South Korea this morning announced 594 more patients, the country’s biggest increase to date, bringing the number of infections to nearly 3,000.

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.

In Iran, unnamed health system sources told the BBC that at least 210 people had died of the coronavirus — far beyond the official death toll of 34, but a health ministry spokesman angrily denied that figure.

Schools closed, events cancelled

The coronavirus crisis is affecting everything from global production to schools to sporting events, with FIFA warning Friday that international football matches could be postponed.

Several companies have said they expect the virus to hit their earnings because of weaker demand.

Oil prices also slipped again, 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 paralysed by quarantines and containment measures.

China hope

Still, signs in China offered hope that the outbreak could be contained.

China reported 44 more deaths yesterday, raising its toll to 2,788, with 327 new cases — the lowest daily figure for new infections in more than a month.

The virus has mostly killed the elderly or people with pre-existing 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 scheduled for April.

In Japan, the health ministry said a British man who was on board a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo had died. More than 700 others on the ship have tested positive.

As of today, according to the latest toll from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, there have been more than 85,187 Covid-19 infections and 2,924 deaths worldwide.

The first confirmed case on the island of Ireland was announced on Thursday by authorities in Northern Ireland.

According to the most extensive study done so far, the novel coronavirus was benign in 80.9% of cases, “serious” in 13.8% and “critical” in 4.7%. The remaining 0.6% was not specified.

Part of the reason Covid-19 been declared a public health emergency is due to the speed at which it has spread compared to other coronaviruses (like Sars and Mers) and the fact that there’s a lot about the disease we still don’t know – including how exactly it’s being transmitted.

© – AFP 2020 – with reporting by Rónán Duffy

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