BEIJING (AFP) – China reported a fresh spike in coronavirus infections yesterday, as United States (US) President Donald Trump urged calm after the first death on US soil and Australia registered its first fatality.
The virus has spread to more than 60 countries around the globe, prompting the World Health Organization to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.
Worldwide, nearly 3,000 people have been killed and about 87,000 infected since the virus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
China yesterday reported 573 new infections, the highest figure in a week after a dip. All but three of them were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
While the numbers in China are still far lower than the huge daily increases reported during the first two weeks of February, COVID-19 has spread rapidly across borders, with South Korea, Italy and Iran emerging as hotspots.
South Korea, which has the most infected people outside China, reported 586 new cases yesterday, bringing its total to 3,736.
Australia reported the first death on its soil – a 78-year-old man who had been evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
There are fears the disease could hammer the global economy, and stock markets last week plunged to their lowest levels since the 2008 financial crisis.
Global attention turned to the US on Saturday after the first fatality on American soil was confirmed.
“We’ve taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus,” US President Donald Trump said at a hastily arranged White House press conference.
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance… There is no reason to panic at all.”
The fatality occurred in Washington state’s King County, which includes Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, health officials said.
The victim was in his 50s and had “underlying health conditions,” officials added, as they also announced a possible outbreak in a Washington state nursing home, where a health worker and a resident in her 70s were both confirmed sick with the virus.
Other residents and staff were “ill with respiratory symptoms or hospitalised with pneumonia of unknown cause,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
The death and two confirmed Washington cases all involved patients who had not travelled overseas or come in contact with anyone known to be ill, indicating the virus was spreading in the US.
“We will see more cases,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said at the White House.
“But it’s important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms.”