WHO says world in uncharted territory as US virus toll rises

BEIJING (AFP) – The world has entered uncharted territory in its battle against the deadly coronavirus, the United Nations (UN) health agency warned, as new infections dropped dramatically in China on Tuesday but surged abroad with the US death toll rising to six.

Globally, the virus has killed more than 3,100 people and infected over 90,000 even as a clear shift in the crisis emerges, with nine times as many new cases recorded outside China as inside, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

China has imposed draconian quarantines and travel restrictions to keep large swathes of the population indoors — a strategy that appears to have paid off as new cases have been generally falling for days.

While Italy has locked down towns, other countries have stopped short of imposing mass quarantines and instead have discouraged large gatherings, delayed sporting events and banned arrivals from virus-hit nations.

Twitter told staff across the world to work from home.

South Korea, Iran and Italy have emerged as major COVID-19 hotspots, which emerged from a market that sold wild animals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Two security volunteers wearing face masks stand at the entrance of an alley in Beijing on Tuesday. The world has entered uncharted territory in its battle against the deadly coronavirus, the UN health agency warned, as new infections dropped dramatically in China on March 3 but surged abroad with the US death toll rising to six. (Photo: AFP)

With concern growing about the impact on the global economy, G7 finance ministers and central bank chiefs will hold talks on Tuesday.

South Korea, the biggest cluster outside China, reported 851 new cases, its biggest daily increase, sending its total past 5,000 while its death toll rose to 28. “The entire country has entered a war with the infectious disease,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said.

By contrast, China reported 125 new cases Tuesday — its lowest daily increase in six weeks — with all but 11 infections in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.The nationwide death toll rose to 2,943 with 31 more deaths, with some 80,000 total cases.

China has even confirmed 13 imported infections, including eight Chinese nationals who worked at the same restaurant in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province are imposing 14-day quarantines on people arriving from countries with a severe epidemic.

“We are in uncharted territory,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. “We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures.”