Navy hospital ship arrives to help New York battle coronavirus

By Stephanie Kelly and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship docked in Manhattan on Monday and a field hospital was going up in Central Park for coronavirus patients, as officials in New York City, the epicenter of a widening U.S. outbreak, pleaded for more help from Washington.

In an image that captured the hopeful spirit of the national mobilization against the outbreak, the USNS Comfort steamed into New York Harbor, accompanied by a flotilla of support ships and helicopters hovering ahead.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a prominent public figure in the battle to stop the virus, waited at a Midtown Manhattan pier when the converted oil tanker, painted white and adorned with giant red crosses, arrived at about 11 a.m. EDT.

The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the Navy said.

Hospitals in New York City have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. New York state accounts for almost half of the country’s 141,883 cases and more than a third of its 2,477 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has the most cases in the world.(Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

Construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Central Park, and the new site was expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

The makeshift facility, provided by Mount Sinai Health Systems and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, de Blasio said.

De Blasio, among a growing chorus of officials who have voiced frustration at the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis, said the death toll in the city would rise soon if Washington did not provide more medical supplies and assistance.

“If we don’t get more consistent federal help in a growing crisis, there’s a danger we start to lose lives that could have been saved,” the New York City mayor said in an interview with CNN. “Sunday is D-Day, we need help by Sunday.”

(Reporting by Dan Trotta, Maria Caspani, Barbara Goldberg and Stephanie Kelly in New York and Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Howard Goller)

Spain registers more than 700 deaths from coronavirus overnight

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain registered 738 fatalities from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours in the steepest increase of the death toll since the epidemic hit the country, the health ministry reported on Wednesday.

The number of reported deaths from the virus rose to 3,434 from 2,696 on Tuesday, the ministry said. The overall number of cases soared to 47,610 from 39,673 on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro, editing by Andrei Khalip)

U.S. could become next coronavirus epicenter, WHO says

By Emma Farge

GENEVA/TOKYO (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, which finally forced reluctant organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Britain joined the ranks of countries in lockdown to try to hold back the virus, and data showed business activity collapsing from Australia and Japan and Western Europe at a record pace in March, with the United States showing expected to be just as dire.

“The coronavirus outbreak represents a major external shock to the macro outlook, akin to a large-scale natural disaster,” analysts at BlackRock Investment Institute said.

But amid the gathering gloom, the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus was first identified in December, said it would lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic eases there.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, more than 16,500 of them fatal.

In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the United States.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, and of those, 40 percent were in the United States.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”

Some U.S. state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulty.

“The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy,” he tweeted.

OLYMPIC ORGANIZERS GIVE IN

Olympic Games organizers and the Japanese government had clung to the hope that the world’s biggest sporting event could go ahead, but finally bowed to the inevitable to make Tokyo 2020 the latest and biggest victim of a ravaged sporting calendar.

After a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the July 24-Aug. 9 event would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest – as proof of victory over the coronavirus.

“President Bach said he is in agreement, 100%.”

It was the first time in the Olympics’ 124-year history that they had been postponed, though they were canceled outright three times during the two 20th-century world wars.

Of the top 10 countries by case numbers, Italy has reported the highest fatality rate, at around 10%, which at least partly reflects its older population. The fatality rate globally – the ratio of deaths to confirmed infections – is around 4.3%, though national figures can vary widely according to how much testing is done.

Britain, believed by experts to be about two weeks behind Italy in the outbreak cycle, on Tuesday began curbs on movement without precedent in peacetime after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home.

The streets of the capital were eerily quiet as all but essential shops closed and people only went to work if it was unavoidable.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

Meanwhile China’s Hubei province, the original center of the outbreak, will lift curbs on people leaving the area, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.

The provincial capital Wuhan, which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will lift its travel restrictions on April 8.

However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge, Stephanie Nebehay, Karolos Grohmann, Leika Kihara, Sakura Murakami, Lusha Zhang and Huizhong Wu; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Jon Boyle and Angus MacSwan)

Italy to use army to enforce coronavirus lockdown in worst-hit region

ROME (Reuters) – The president of Lombardy said on Friday the government had agreed to deploy the army in his region to enforce the lockdown against the coronavirus epidemic, which is not slowing down.

“(The request to use the army) has been accepted… and 114 soldiers will be on the ground throughout Lombardy… it is still too little, but it is positive,” Attilio Fontana told a news conference.

Lombardy has also asked the government to further tighten the restrictions already in place, which include the closure of all non-essential commercial activities and a ban on public gatherings.

Fontana, without giving numbers, added that contagion is still spreading in Lombardy, the Italian region which has so far registered by far the highest number of cases and deaths in Italy.

“Unfortunately we are not seeing a change of trend in the numbers, which are rising,” he said.

(Reporting by Elisa Anzolin, writing by Angelo Amante, editing by Gavin Jones)

Rich nations pump aid into battered economy as coronavirus deaths in Italy overtake China

By Guy Faulconbridge and James Mackenzie

LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) – The world’s richest nations poured unprecedented aid into the global economy on Thursday as coronavirus cases ballooned in the new epicenter Europe, with the number of deaths in Italy outstripping those in mainland China, where the virus originated.

With over 236,000 infections and more than 9,700 deaths, the epidemic has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres warned that a global recession, “perhaps of record dimensions”, was a near certainty.

“This is a moment that demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies,” Guterres told reporters via a video conference. “We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.”

Tourism and airlines have been particularly battered, as the world’s citizens hunker down to minimize contact and curb the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness. But few sectors have been spared by a crisis threatening a lengthy global recession.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expected closure of the United States-Canada border to come into effect overnight on Friday. The U.S. State Department is expected to urge Americans not to travel abroad at all.

Markets have suffered routs unseen since the 2008 financial debacle, with investors rushing to the U.S. dollar as a safe haven. Wall Street tried to bounce back on Thursday. The benchmark S&P 500 swung into positive territory after falling as much as 3.3% and was up about 1%. U.S. oil prices rose 20%.

Policymakers in the United States, Europe and Asia have slashed interest rates and opened liquidity taps to try to stabilize economies hit by quarantined consumers, broken supply chains, disrupted transport and paralyzed businesses.

The virus, thought to have originated from wildlife in mainland China late last year, has jumped to 172 other nations and territories with more than 20,000 new cases reported in the past 24 hours – a new daily record.

Cases in Germany, Iran and Spain rose to more than 12,000 each. An official in Tehran tweeted that the coronavirus was killing one person every 10 minutes.

LONDON LOCKDOWN?

Britain, which has reported 144 deaths, was closing dozens of underground stations in London and ordering schools shut from Friday.

Some 20,000 soldiers were on standby, Queen Elizabeth headed for sanctuary in the ancient castle of Windsor, and the Tower of London was to close along with other historic buildings.

“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe,” the 93-year-old monarch said in an address to the nation.

“I am certain we are up to that challenge. You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”

Italian soldiers transported corpses overnight from an overwhelmed cemetery in Europe’s worst-hit nation where 3,405 people have died, more than in mainland China. Germany’s military was also readying to help.

Supermarkets in many countries were besieged with shoppers stocking up on food staples and hygiene products. Some rationed sales and fixed special hours for the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness.

Solidarity projects were springing up in some of the world’s poorest corners. In Kenya’s Kibera slum, for example, volunteers with plastic drums and boxes of soap on motorbikes set up handwashing stations for people without clean water.

Russia reported its first coronavirus death on Thursday.

Amid the gloom, China provided a ray of hope as it reported zero new local transmissions of the virus, a sign of success for its draconian containment policies since January. Imported cases accounted for all 34 new infections in China.

In the United States, where President Donald Trump had initially played down the coronavirus threat, infections surged with over 10,700 known cases and at least 163 deaths.

Trump has infuriated Beijing’s Communist Party rulers by rebuking it for not acting faster and drawn accusations of racism by referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”.

“We continue our relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus,” he said in opening remarks at a briefing with his coronavirus task force on Thursday.

The head of the U.S. National Guard said tens of thousands of its troops could be activated to help U.S. states deal with the outbreak now in all 50 states.

MOTOWN SHUTS CAR PLANTS

In a bewildering raft of financial measures around the world, the European Central Bank launched new bond purchases worth 750 billion euros ($817 billion). That brought some relief to bond markets and also halted European shares’ slide.

The U.S. Federal Reserve rolled out its third emergency credit program in two days, aimed at keeping the $3.8 trillion money market mutual fund industry functioning. The Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1%, its second emergency rate cut in just over a week.

China was to unleash trillions of yuan of fiscal stimulus and South Korea pledged 50 trillion won ($39 billion).

The desperate state of industry was writ large in Detroit, where the big three automakers – Ford Motor Co <F.N>, General Motors Co <GM.N> and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI> <FCAU.N> – were shutting U.S. plants, as well as factories in Canada and Mexico.

With some economists fearing prolonged pain akin to the 1930s Great Depression and others anticipating a bounceback, gloomy data and forecasts abounded.

In one of the most dire calls, J.P. Morgan economists forecast the Chinese economy to drop more than 40% this quarter and the U.S. economy to shrink 14% in the next. Ratings agency Moody’s prepared for mass downgradings.

In Britain, small gin distilleries have started producing hand sanitizer amid a national shortage, a trend mirrored across the globe from Australia to the United States.

And Monaco canceled its showcase Formula One Grand Prix, the most famous and glamorous race on the calendar, in another high-profile sporting casualty of the epidemic.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux around the world; Writing by Marius Zaharia, Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Bill Berkrot)

Trump stops Europe flights, China says coronavirus outbreak may end by June

Reuters
By Liangping Gao and Andrea Shalal

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Travelers scrambled to rebook flights and markets reeled on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from Europe, hitting battered airlines and heightening global alarm over the coronavirus.

But China, where the disease originated, said its epidemic had peaked and the global spread could be over by June if other nations applied similarly aggressive containment measures as Beijing’s communist government.

Trump had downplayed risks to the United States during the crisis, but with epidemics ballooning from Iran to Italy and Spain, he limited travel from continental Europe for 30 days.

“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” he said in a prime-time televised address from the Oval Office on Wednesday.

That sent markets into a tailspin, with European shares plunging to their lowest in almost four years and oil also slumping.

It also sent stressed travelers rushing to airports to board last flights back to the United States.

“It caused a mass panic,” said 20-year-old Anna Grace, a U.S. student at Suffolk University on her first trip to Europe who rushed to Madrid’s Barajas airport at 5 a.m. to get home.

The outbreak has disrupted industry, travel, entertainment and sports worldwide, even throwing the Tokyo Summer Olympics into question. But its progress in the epicenter of China’s Hubei province has slowed markedly amid strict curbs on movement, including the lockdown of its capital Wuhan.

Hubei logged just eight new infections on Wednesday, the first time in the outbreak it has recorded a daily tally of less than 10. Beyond Hubei, mainland China had just seven new cases, six of them imported from abroad.

“The peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission.

OVER BY JUNE?

The Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, an 83-year-old epidemiologist renowned for helping combat the SARS outbreak in 2003, said the crisis could be over by mid-year.

“If all countries could get mobilized, it could be over by June,” he said. “But if some countries do not treat the infectiousness and harmfulness seriously, and intervene strongly, it would last longer.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 126,000 people across the world, the vast majority in China, and killed 4,624, according to a Reuters tally.

Already annoyed at what it considered over-draconian travel restrictions by Washington early in the crisis, Beijing smarted again at latest U.S. criticism of its handling.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien accused China on Wednesday of initially covering up the Hubei outbreak, saying that cost the world two months in response time.

In fact, retorted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, China’s efforts bought the world time and “immoral and irresponsible” remarks would not help U.S. epidemic efforts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now officially describes the crisis as a pandemic, meaning it is spreading fast across the globe.

“Describing this as a pandemic does not mean that countries should give up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva. “The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation is wrong and dangerous.”

Trump’s surprise travel order, which starts at midnight on Friday, does not apply to Britain or to Americans undergoing “appropriate screenings”, he said. “The restriction stops people not goods,” he tweeted after his speech.

EU DISAPPROVAL

The 27-nation European Union (EU) bloc was not impressed.

“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Council president Charles Michel said in a statement.

The market plunge hit airline and leisure stocks particularly hard.

“This is something that markets had not factored in … it’s a huge near-term economic cost,” Khoon Goh, head of Asia Research at ANZ in Singapore, said of the U.S. move.

Although exempt from Trump’s ban and no longer a member of the EU, Britain also expressed disappointment, saying it would have an impact on its economy.

But U.S. Vice President Mike Pence defended the new restrictions, saying the epicenter of the pandemic had shifted from Asia to Europe. “We know there will be more infections in the days ahead. We’re trying to hold that number down as much as possible,” Pence told NBC’s “Today” program.

In the United States, classes were suspended for two weeks in the greater Seattle area, which accounts for the bulk of at least 38 U.S. fatalities from the disease.

Oscar-winning American actor Tom Hanks tested positive in Australia, where he is on a film shoot.

Despite fears for the Tokyo Olympics, the torch relay got started in Greece when the flame was lit by the rays of the sun in ancient Olympia – albeit in a scaled-down ceremony and without spectators.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Woo, Stella Qui, Kevin Yao and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Alexandra Alper, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, David Lawder, and Richard Cowan in Washington, Marine Strauus in Brussels, William Schomberg in London, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Karolos Grohmann in Ancient Olympia; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)

South Korea seeks murder charges as coronavirus kills more than 3,000 worldwide

By Hyonhee Shin and Se Young Lee

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – South Korea sought murder charges against leaders of a secretive church at the center of a ballooning coronavirus outbreak in the country on Monday as the global death toll rose above 3,000.

World stock markets regained some calm as hopes for global interest rate cuts to soften the economic blow of the virus steadied nerves after last week’s worst plunge since the 2008 financial crisis.

South Korea reported 599 new coronavirus cases, taking its national tally to 4,335, following the country’s biggest daily jump on Saturday of 813 confirmed infections.

There were 586 more on Sunday, broadening the largest virus outbreak outside China. There have been 26 deaths in total.

Worldwide, the death toll has risen to 3,044, according to Reuters figures.

Of the new cases in South Korea, 377 were from the southeastern city of Daegu, home to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which most of South Korea’s cases have been traced.

The agency said that in January some members of the church visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease emerged late last year.

The Seoul government asked prosecutors to launch a murder investigation into leaders of the church, a movement that reveres founder Lee Man-hee.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said that if Lee and other heads of the church had cooperated, preventive measures could have saved the people who died.

“The situation is this serious and urgent, but where are the leaders of the Shincheonji, including Lee Man-hee, the chief director of this crisis?” Park said in a post on his Facebook page late on Sunday.

Seoul’s city government said it had filed a criminal complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, asking for an investigation of Lee and 12 others on charges of murder and disease control act violations.

Lee apologized on Monday that one of its members had infected many others, calling the epidemic a “great calamity”.

“We did our best but was not able to stop the spread of the virus,” Lee told reporters.

It was not immediately known how many of South Korea’s dead were directly connected to the church.

Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the epidemic, closed the first of 16 specially built hospitals, hurriedly put up to treat people with the virus, after it discharged its last recovered patients, state broadcaster CCTV said on Monday.

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus.

‘OUTBREAKS ARE CURBED’

News of the closure coincided with a steep fall in new cases in Hubei province, but China remained on alert for people returning home with the virus from other countries.

“The rapid rising trend of virus cases in Wuhan has been controlled,” Mi Feng, a spokesman for China’s National Health Commission, told a briefing.

“Outbreaks in Hubei outside of Wuhan are curbed and provinces outside of Hubei are showing a positive trend.”

The virus broke out in Wuhan late last year and has since infected more than 86,500 people, the majority in China, with most in Hubei.

Outside China, it has in recent days spread rapidly, now to 53 countries, with more than 6,500 cases and more than 100 deaths. Italy has 1,694 cases, the vast majority in the wealthy northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.

Iran’s number of reported cases rose to 1,501 on Monday, with 66 deaths.

Global factories took a beating in February from the outbreak, with activity in China shrinking at a record pace, surveys showed on Monday, raising the prospect of a coordinated policy response by central banks to prevent a global recession.

The global spread has forced the postponement of festivals, exhibitions, trade fairs and sports events, crippled tourism, retail sales and global supply chains, especially in China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Retail sales in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, already rocked by months of often violent anti-government unrest, fell 21.4% in January from a year earlier.

Middle East airlines have lost an estimated $100 million so far due to the outbreak and governments should help the carriers through this “difficult period”, an official of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

Global airlines stand to lose $1.5 billion this year due to the virus, he said.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the outbreak was pitching the world economy into its worst downturn since the global financial crisis, urging governments and central banks to fight back.

Officials in U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Sunday tried to calm market panic that the coronavirus could cause a global recession, saying the U.S. public had over-reacted and that stocks would rebound due to the American economy’s underlying strength.

The S&P 500 index tumbled 11.5% last week. Roughly $4 trillion has been wiped off the value of U.S. stocks.

Speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the administration’s response to the virus, said the market “will come back”.

“The fundamentals of this economy are strong. We just saw some new numbers come out in housing and consumer confidence and business optimism. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. More Americans are working than ever before,” Pence said.

(Graphic: Reuters graphics on the new coronavirus ,

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Jack Kim in Seoul, Ju-min Park in Gapyeong, Ryan Woo, David Stanway, Se Young Lee, Emily Chow and Andrew Galbraith in Beijing, Leigh Thomas in Paris, Michelle Price in Washington, Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Jonathan Cable in London, Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Explainer: Coronavirus reappears in discharged patients, raising questions in containment fight

By David Stanway and Kate Kelland

SHANGHAI/LONDON (Reuters) – A growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive after recovering, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital, which could make the epidemic harder to eradicate.

On Wednesday, the Osaka prefectural government in Japan said a woman working as a tour-bus guide had tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time. This followed reports in China that discharged patients throughout the country were testing positive after their release from the hospital.

An official at China’s National Health Commission said on Friday that such patients have not been found to be infectious.

Experts say there are several ways discharged patients could fall ill with the virus again. Convalescing patients might not build up enough antibodies to develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, and are being infected again. The virus also could be “biphasic”, meaning it lies dormant before creating new symptoms.

But some of the first cases of “reinfection” in China have been attributed to testing discrepancies.

On Feb. 21, a discharged patient in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu was readmitted 10 days after being discharged when a follow-up test came back positive.

Lei Xuezhong, the deputy director of the infectious diseases center at the West China Hospital, told People’s Daily that hospitals were testing nose and throat samples when deciding whether patients should be discharged, but new tests were finding the virus in the lower respiratory tract.

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia who has been closely following the outbreak, told Reuters that although the patient in Osaka could have relapsed, it is also possible that the virus was still being released into her system from the initial infection, and she wasn’t tested properly before she was discharged.

The woman first tested positive in late January and was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 1, leading some experts to speculate that it was biphasic, like anthrax.

A Journal of the American Medical Association study of four infected medical personnel treated in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, said it was likely that some recovered patients would remain carriers even after meeting discharge criteria.

In China, for instance, patients must test negative, show no symptoms and have no abnormalities on X-rays before they are discharged.

Allen Cheng, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at Monash University in Melbourne, said it wasn’t clear whether the patients were re-infected or had remained “persistently positive” after their symptoms disappeared. But he said the details of the Japan case suggested the patient had been reinfected.

Song Tie, vice director of the local disease control center in southern China’s Guangdong province, told a media briefing on Wednesday that as many as 14% of discharged patients in the province have tested positive again and had returned to hospitals for observation.

He said one good sign is that none of those patients appear to have infected anyone else.

“From this understanding … after someone has been infected by this kind of virus, he will produce antibodies, and after these antibodies are produced, he won’t be contagious,” he said.

Normally, convalescing patients will develop specific antibodies that render them immune to the virus that infected them, but reinfection is not impossible, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Sydney.

“In most cases though, because their body has developed an immune response to the first infection, the second infection is usually less severe,” Kamradt-Scott said.

Other experts have also raised the possibility of “antibody-dependent enhancement”, which means exposure to viruses might make patients more at risk of further infections and worse symptoms.

China has so far discharged 36,117 patients, according to data from the National Health Commission released on Friday, which represents almost 46% of the total cases on the Chinese mainland. If the 14% rate of reinfection is accurate and remains consistent, it could pose a wider health risk.

“I would say that it is less about if it is possible that re-infection can occur than how often it occurs,” Cheng said.

(Reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai, Kate Kelland in London and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

U.S. says Iran may have suppressed ‘vital details’ on coronavirus outbreak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States was “deeply concerned” Iran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus, and he called on all nations to “tell the truth” about the epidemic.

“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo told reporters, as he also criticized Beijing for what he characterized as the censorship of media and medical professionals.

“All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” he said.

Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the highest outside China, increasing its international isolation as nations from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the epidemic’s global spread.

Believed to come from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed 2,663 in China. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says the epidemic there has peaked and has been declining since Feb. 2.

Beijing last week revoked the credentials of three Wall Street Journal correspondents over a column China said was racist, and the United States has said it was considering a range of responses to their expulsion.

Pressed on what steps the Trump administration might take, Pompeo declined to provide any details beyond saying a broad range of options were on the table.

“Expelling our journalists exposes once again the government’s issue that led to SARS and now the coronavirus – namely censorship. It can have deadly consequences,” Pompeo said, referring to the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

“If China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge” of coronavirus, he added.

Pompeo said that despite the coronavirus epidemic, the United States planned to move forward and host a special meeting with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Las Vegas in March.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Coronavirus increases Iran’s isolation, strains South Korea and Italy

By Parisa Hafezi and Ryan Woo

DUBAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the highest outside China, increasing its international isolation as dozens of countries from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the epidemic’s global spread.

Believed to come from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed 2,663 in China. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says the epidemic there has peaked and has been declining since Feb. 2.

Beyond mainland China, however, it has jumped to about 29 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths, according to a Reuters tally. Growing outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea are of particular concern.

“We are close to a pandemic but there is still hope,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of a biosecurity program at the University of New South Wales, using the term for a widespread global epidemic.

Global stocks sank to their lowest levels in over two months on Tuesday in anxiety over the coronavirus’ spread and its damage to the world economy.

Iran’s outbreak, amid mounting U.S. sanctions pressure, threatens to leave it further cut off. Several countries suspended flights due to cases in travelers from Iran to Canada, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.

Some neighbors also closed borders, while Oman’s Khasab port halted imports and exports with Iran.

“It is an uninvited and inauspicious visitor. God willing we will get through … this virus,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech.

The deputy health minister was among those infected.

Iran canceled concerts and soccer matches nationwide, and schools and universities closed in many provinces. Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts.

Popular anger has been high over the handling of a Ukrainian passenger plane crash in January, which the military took three days to acknowledge was caused by an Iranian missile fired in error.

Authorities say U.S. sanctions are hampering its response to the coronavirus by preventing imports of masks and medicines.

CHURCH UNDER SCRUTINY

South Korea has the most virus cases outside China, with 977 infections and 10 deaths, the majority linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu, where the outbreak is believed to have begun with a 61-year-old woman.

Authorities were to test all members of the church, estimated by media at about 215,000 people. President Moon Jae-in acknowledged the situation was “very grave”.

In Europe, Italy is the front line, with more than 280 cases and seven deaths, most in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions but one case emerging in Sicily, the first in the country south of Rome.

Italy’s tourist industry, which accounts for about 13% of the economy, fears a plunge amid restrictions on public events affecting soccer matches, cinemas and theaters.

A planned three-week shoot in Italy for Tom Cruise’s seventh outing in the “Mission: Impossible” series was also postponed, while Milan cathedral was closed and Venice carnival canceled.

Airlines began restricting flights to Italy, while prices for masks and gels skyrocketed.

Eurasia consultancy’s Scott Rosenstein said the bad news from Iran, South Korea and Italy had undercut confidence sustained human-to-human transmission can be limited to China.

“This worsening narrative around disease containment has overshadowed the cautious optimism narrative coming out of China,” he said. “Markets have responded accordingly.”

“DON’T HANG ABOUT”

Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran.

With dozens of sporting events already hit, Japan, which has had four deaths and 850 cases, said it was premature to talk about cancelling the Tokyo Olympics due to start on July 24.

The United States pledged $2.5 billion to fight the disease, with more than $1 billion going towards developing a vaccine.

China reported a rise in new cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. But excluding those, it had just nine new infections on Monday, its fewest since Jan. 20.

With the pace of new infections slowing, Beijing said restrictions on travel and movement that have paralyzed activity in the world’s second-largest economy should begin to be lifted.

An official with the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control noted that supermarkets were becoming busier – but offered some pointers for shoppers.

“Choose a supermarket with relatively low foot traffic and good ventilation, and prepare a shopping list before actually going to shop,” Liu Xiaofeng told reporters.

“Don’t hang about. Don’t chit-chat.”

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun and Lusha Zhang in Beijing; Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul; Jeff Mason and Phil Stewart in Washington; Ritvik Carvalho in London; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Nick Macfie and Timothy Heritage)