BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – Italy, South Korea and Iran reported sharp rises in coronavirus infections on Monday, but China relaxed curbs on movement as the rate of new infections there eased and a visiting World Health Organization team reported steep declines in visits to clinics.
The virus has put Chinese cities into lockdown in recent weeks, disrupted air traffic to the workshop of the world and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars and car parts to smartphones.
But China’s actions, especially in the city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, had probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, the head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, said, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast.
“The world is in your debt,” Aylward said in Beijing, addressing the people of Wuhan. “The people of that city have gone through an extraordinary period and they’re still going through it.”
The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global share markets and Wall Street stock futures as investors fled to safe havens. European share markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high, oil tumbled nearly 4% and the Korean won KRW= fell to its lowest level since August.[MKTS/GLOB]
But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the impact on the global economy or supply chains, saying it was simply too soon to know. Live blog: Online site for coronavirus news – here Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus – here Reuters graphics on the new coronavirus – here
The WHO’s Aylward said multiple data sources backed the trend of declining cases but an official with China’s National Health Commission, Liang Wannian, said more than 3,000 medical staff had become infected, most of them in Hubei, and likely due to the lack of protective gear and fatigue.
Excluding Hubei, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide daily figures on Jan. 20.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most in Hubei.
Overall, China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.
But there was a measure of relief for the world’s second-largest economy as more than 20 province-level jurisdictions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero new infections, the best showing since the outbreak began.
Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.
South Korea reported 231 new cases, taking its total to 833. Many are in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, which became more isolated with Asiana Airlines (020560.KS) and Korean Air (003490.KS) suspending flights there until next month.
Iran, which announced its first two cases last Wednesday, said it now had 61 cases and 12 deaths. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Bahrain and Iraq reported their first cases and Kuwait reported three cases involving people who had been in Iran.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed restrictions on travel and immigration from Iran. Afghanistan also reported its first case, officials said.
Europe’s biggest outbreak is in Italy, with some 150 infections – compared with just three before Friday – and a sixth death.
SHOW MUSTN’T GO ON
In northern Italy, authorities sealed off the worst-affected towns and banned public gatherings across a wide area, halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.
Austria briefly suspended train services over the Alps from Italy after two travelers coming from Italy showed symptoms of fever.
Both tested negative for the new coronavirus but Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said a task force would meet on Monday to discuss whether to introduce border controls. (Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7. Open in an external browser.)
President Xi Jinping urged businesses to get back to work, though he said the epidemic was still “severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage”.
Xi said on Sunday the outbreak would have a relatively big, but short-term, impact on the economy and the government would step up policy adjustments to help cushion the blow.
Mnuchin, speaking to Reuters in the Saudi city of Riyadh, said he did not expect the coronavirus to have a material impact on the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal.
“Obviously that could change as the situation develops,” he added.
Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo. A third passenger, a Japanese man in his 80s, died on Sunday.
In South Korea, authorities reported a seventh death and dozens more cases on Monday. Of the new cases, 115 were linked to a church in the city of Daegu.
Drone footage showed what appeared to be hundreds of people queuing in a neat line outside a Daegu supermarket to buy face masks. ( tmsnrt.rs/37WP6lA )
Reporting by Gabreil Crossley and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Additional reporting by Judy Hua, Huizhong Wu, Yawen Chen, Lusha Zhang and David Kirton in Beijing, Engen Tham in Shangai, Joyce Lee and Cynthia Kim in Seoul, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Kate Kelland in London, Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Andrea Shalal in Riyadh; Writing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Simon Cameron-Moore and Kevin Liffey