February 27, 2020 4:19 pm

World 'On Brink Of Coronavirus Pandemic'

BEIJING - Coronavirus cases spread in Europe and beyond on Wednesday, as the US announced it was considering new travel restrictions and Latin America confirmed its first patient from an epidemic that has killed thousands worldwide.

Meanwhile, the situation has improved in China.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the world is "simply not ready".

More than 45 countries hit

There have been more than 82,100 infections and 2,800 deaths worldwide, according to the latest toll from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The number of deaths in China — where the virus was first detected — has declined, with 29 more deaths reported on Thursday, the lowest daily figure in almost a month.

But the daily number of infections worldwide is higher than in China, the WHO has said.

More than 50 deaths have been reported outside mainland China since the start of the epidemic, out of more than 3,600 people infected, according to the Johns Hopkins Center.

Cases of the virus have appeared in nine new countries — Romania, Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Norway, Pakistan and Switzerland— bringing the number of countries hit to more than 45.

South Korea has announced more than 1,590 infections — by far the largest outside China — and 12 deaths.

The number of infections in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, hit the 400 mark late on Wednesday, with 12 deaths.

Iran announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.

In France two people have died, with more than a dozen infected, after the death of a 60-year old French person on Wednesday.

Latin America also recorded its first case in a Brazilian who returned home from Italy.

World 'simply not ready'

Praising China's drastic quarantine and containment measures, Bruce Aylward, leader of a joint WHO-China mission of experts, also warned other nations are "simply not ready" to contain the outbreak.

"You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale [...] and it has to be done fast".

But US President Donald Trump attempted to play down fears that the virus could worsen in America, where 60 cases have been reported, saying "nothing's inevitable".

The State Department raised its travel advisory caution level for South Korea to the second-highest, now urging Americans to reconsider travelling there.

The US and South Korean militaries announced they are postponing forthcoming joint exercises.

Gulf countries announced new measures to cut links with Iran — the major hotspot in the Middle East — to stop the spread.

Iranian authorities for their part announced domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected cases of the novel coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia announced it will temporarily suspend visas for pilgrims.

In Europe, countries neighbouring Italy decided to keep their borders open despite the spread of the virus to Tuscany, Sicily and Liguria. But several governments encouraged their nationals to postpone trips.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday warned that there is every sign the world is about to be gripped by a pandemic of coronavirus, as Australia kicked off emergency measures to restrain the spread of the disease.

"The advice we have received today is [...] there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus," Morrison told a televised news conference in Canberra, the capital.

"And as a result we have agreed today and initiated the [...] coronavirus emergency response plan," he added.

Australia will extend a travel ban on foreigners arriving from China by at least another week, Morrison said, although there was as yet no need to stop mass gatherings, such as football games.

Sports, markets disrupted

The alpine skiing World Cup Finals scheduled for next month in Italy is set to take place without any fans on the slopes.

Addtionally, Italian golfers Edoardo Molinari and Lorenzo Gagli are quarantined in Muscat over fears they have the virus.

Ireland's Six Nations rugby match against Italy planned for Dublin on March 7 was postponed to a later date.

Japan's sumo governing body announced it would hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to go ahead with a major tournament in Osaka scheduled to start on March 8.

But organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics say preparations are "continuing as planned".

Several major companies said their sales will be hit by the epidemic, including British drinks group Diageo, the maker of Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka, French food giant Danone, and American air company United Airlines.

German airline Lufthansa and Air France both said they will freeze new hires.

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