China reported a fresh spike in novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections on Sunday, as 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 (WHO) 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 on Sunday 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 376 new cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 3,526.
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.
His 79-year-old wife was also infected with the disease during the cruise and remains in a Perth hospital, a spokeswoman for the Western Australian state health department said.
The couple was among about 160 Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess last month and they tested positive for the coronavirus during their flight home.
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 United States on Saturday after the first fatality on American soil was confirmed.
“We’ve taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus,” Trump said at a hastily arranged White House press conference.
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance,” he said, and urged the media and politicians “not to do anything to incite panic.”
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 hospitalized 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 traveled overseas or come in contact with anyone known to be ill, indicating the virus was spreading in the United States.
“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.”
France cancelled gatherings of 5,000 people or more after 16 new cases were confirmed there on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 73.
Sunday’s Paris half-marathon and an agricultural symposium were among the events that were axed.
Italy, the hotspot of the outbreak in Europe, saw a jump in new cases on Saturday, with its number of infections exceeding 1,000 and the death toll jumping by eight to 29.
The outbreak forced the postponement of five matches in Italy’s top-flight Serie A football league, including the heavyweight clash between champions Juventus and Inter Milan.
In recent days, the epidemic has spread also to sub-Saharan Africa, while Qatar, Ecuador, Luxembourg, and Ireland all confirmed their first cases on Saturday.
Governments around the world have scrambled to prevent the spread of the virus, from large-scale lockdowns of millions of people in China to flight bans and travel restrictions from disease hotspots.
Beijing’s drastic steps include curbing the movement of people, temporarily closing factories across China and quarantining Hubei, a key industrial province where the virus first appeared.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday the government was waging “all-out responses” to contain the novel coronavirus.
“We will be able to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak and revive our shrunken economy,” he said.
South Korea’s epidemic is centered in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, whose streets have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.
The total in South Korea is expected to rise further as authorities screen more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country’s cases.
Mexico confirmed its fourth case of the new coronavirus on Saturday – all linked to recent travel to Italy—after a young woman tested positive for infection.
Health authorities said the 20-year-old from northern Coahuila state was carrying the virus without showing symptoms.
She had recently traveled to Milan and was now under isolation in her home, according to the state government.
Another eight people are being tested for suspected infection, authorities said.
The other three confirmed cases—two men in Mexico City and one man in northern Sinaloa state—are all believed to have visited northern Italy, authorities said Friday.