U.N. warns of global mental health crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A mental illness crisis is looming as millions of people worldwide are surrounded by death and disease and forced into isolation, poverty and anxiety by the pandemic of COVID-19, United Nations health experts said on Thursday.

“The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all-cause or could cause psychological distress,” said Devora Kestel, director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mental health department.

Presenting a U.N. report and policy guidance on COVID-19 and mental health, Kestel said an upsurge in the number and severity of mental illnesses is likely, and governments should put the issue “front and centre” of their responses.

“The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently,” she told reporters at a briefing.

The report highlighted several regions and sections of societies as vulnerable to mental distress – including children and young people isolated from friends and school, healthcare workers who are seeing thousands of patients infected with and dying from the new coronavirus.

Emerging studies and surveys are already showing COVID-19’s impact on mental health globally. Psychologists say children are anxious and increases in cases of depression and anxiety have been recorded in several countries.

Domestic violence is rising, and health workers are reporting an increased need for psychological support.

Reuters last week reported from interviews with doctors and nurses in the United States who said either they or their colleagues had experienced a combination of panic, anxiety, grief, numbness, irritability, insomnia and nightmares.

Outside of the health sector, the WHO report said many people are distressed by the immediate health impacts and the consequences of physical isolation, while many others are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members.

Millions of people are facing economic turmoil, having lost or being at risk of losing their income and livelihoods, it added. And frequent misinformation and rumors about the pandemic and deep uncertainty about how long it will last are making people feel anxious and hopeless about the future.

It outlined action points for policy-makers to aim “to reduce immense suffering among hundreds of millions of people and mitigate long-term social and economic costs to society”.

These included redressing historic under-investment in psychological services, providing “emergency mental health” via remote therapies such as tele-counseling for frontline health workers, and working proactively with people known to have depression and anxiety, and with those at high risk of domestic violence and acute impoverishment.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, Editing by William Maclean)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Trade deal in doubt?

U.S. President Donald Trump said he opposed renegotiating the “Phase 1” trade deal on Monday after Chinese-run state newspaper The Global Times reported some government advisers in Beijing were urging fresh talks.

Rising U.S.-China tensions over the coronavirus outbreak have cast the trade deal between the two countries, and proposed talks on a Phase 2 deal, into doubt.

The Global Times said that malicious attacks by the United States have ignited a “tsunami of anger” among Chinese trade insiders after China made compromises in the Phase 1 pact.

Dangerous calculation

WHO officials urged “extreme vigilance” on Monday as countries began to exit from lockdowns, stressing that early studies point to lower-than-expected antibody levels against the COVID-19 disease within the general population, meaning that most people remain susceptible.

Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program warned countries that have “lax measures” in place to be wary of counting on herd immunity to halt the spread of COVID-19, saying: “This is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation.”

Economic boost

Once Australia removes most social distancing restrictions by July, its GDP will rise by $6.5 bln each month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was expected to tell lawmakers on Tuesday in a speech updating them on his budget planning.

Britain’s finance minister Rishi Sunak is similarly due to answer questions about the economic response to COVID-19 in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

There, the focus is how Britain plans to continue the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is paying employers 80% of the wages of more than 6 million workers who are on temporary leave from businesses affected by the coronavirus. The scheme is due to run until the end of June.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that coronavirus infections had peaked, and that people who could not work from home should return to their workplaces if possible.

Testing 11 million in 10 days

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak, plans to conduct nucleic acid testing over a period of 10 days, an internal document seen by Reuters showed and two sources familiar with the situation said, with every district told to submit a detailed testing plan by Tuesday.

The city of 11 million people reported its first cluster of new infections over the weekend after a months-long lockdown was lifted on April 8.

These plans come as the global alarm was sounded on Monday over a potential second wave of coronavirus infections after Germany reported that the reproduction rate of the pathogen had risen above 1.

Canceled Cannes

“It breaks my heart,” said Joseph Morpelli, leading member of the so-called ‘stepladder gang’ of ardent autograph-hunters and amateur paparazzi, as he stood across the street from the venue of the canceled Cannes Festival on Monday.

Usually, a hive of activity, the location where Morpelli and his fellow diehard fans could get a glimpse of celebrities walking down the red carpet is now deserted, as the film festival which was meant to start on Tuesday has been called off.

It was only the third time in its history that the festival has failed to take place. The two previous occasions were the outbreak of World War Two and 1968, when France was roiled by violent protests.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh)

WHO chief says pandemic ‘far from over’, worried about children

GENEVA (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is “far from over” and is still disrupting normal health services, especially life-saving immunisation for children in the poorest countries, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

The U.N. agency is concerned about rising numbers of cases and deaths in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and some Asian countries, even as the numbers flatten or decline in some wealthier nations.

“We have a long road ahead of us and a lot of work to do,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference in Geneva, adding that a second wave of infections could be prevented with the right actions.

The novel coronavirus, which emerged late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has alrady infected 2.97 million and claimed 205,948 lives, according to the latest Reuters tally.

Tedros expressed concern that the health of children was being threatened by the impact of the coronavirus emergency on vaccination programmes for other diseases.

“Children may be at relatively low risk from severe disease and death from COVID-19 – the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus – but can be at high risk from other diseases that can be prevented with vaccines,” said Tedros.

Some 13 million people have been affected worldwide by delays in regular immunisations against diseases including polio, measles, cholera, yellow fever and meningitis, he said.

Shortages of vaccines against other diseases are being reported in 21 countries as a result of border restrictions and disruptions to travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Tedros said, citing the GAVI global vaccine alliance.

“The number of malaria cases in sub-Saharan Africa could double,” he said, referring to the potential impact of COVID-19 on regular malaria services. “That doesn’t have to happen, we are working with countries to support them.”

WHO’s top emergencies expert Dr. Mike Ryan, asked about some U.S. states lifting restrictions despite a lack of contact-tracing and the government’s handling of the crisis, said the United States seemed to have a “very clearly laid-out”, science-based federal plan for fighting its coronavirus epidemic.

“The federal government and the system of governors are working together to move America and its people through this very difficult situation,” Ryan said.

But the federal system linking 50 states made the situation “complex”, he added.

Ryan also repeated an earlier WHO warning against easing restrictions too soon.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; editing by Gareth Jones)

Global coronavirus cases pass three million as lockdowns begin to ease

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Global confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 3 million on Monday, as the United States neared 1 million cases, according to a Reuters tally.

It comes as many countries are taking steps to ease lockdown measures that have brought the world to a standstill over the past eight weeks. he first 41 cases were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10. The 3 million confirmed infections in less than four months are comparable in number with the roughly 3-5 million cases of severe illness caused by seasonal influenza around the world each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

An average of 82,000 cases have been reported per day in the past week. Over a quarter of all cases are in the United States, and over 43% have been recorded in Europe.

The death toll from the virus stood at more than 205,000 as of Monday, and almost one in seven reported cases of the disease has been fatal.

The true mortality rate is likely to be substantially lower as the tally of infections does not include many mild or asymptomatic and unconfirmed cases.

Some severely affected countries in Europe, including Italy, France and Spain, have recorded a drop in daily case numbers over recent weeks, but still recorded 2,000-5,000 new infections per day in the past week.

Total cases rose 2.5% on Sunday, the lowest daily rate in almost two months, and down from a peak in late March when the total was rising by more than 10% a day.

The United States has reported an average of more than 30,000 new cases a day in the past week, and now represents around a third of all new cases.

TENTATIVE REOPENING

Italy said it will permit some factories to reopen on May 4 as part of a staggered reopening, while Spain relaxed lockdown rules on Sunday, allowing children outside under supervision.

Several U.S. states have reopened businesses amid predictions that the jobless rate could hit 16% for April.

In Asia, which accounts for just under 7% of all cases, some countries are struggling to keep new infections in check. They include Japan and Singapore, which saw cases rise in April despite earlier successful efforts to slow the spread.

Others in the region have managed to rein in outbreaks, including South Korea, which has reported around 10 cases a day in the past week, down from a peak of over 1,000 in February.

In China, where the virus first emerged, officials reported just three new infections for Sunday and said all patients in Wuhan, the original epicentre, had now been discharged.

Case numbers continue to rise faster than the global average in Latin America and Africa. Total cases in Mexico grew 7-10% a day in the past week, reaching 13,800, while cases in Brazil surpassed 60,000 on Sunday.

Over 40% of Africa’s 32,600 cases are in the north, where Morocco, Egypt and Algeria are reporting serious outbreaks.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; editing by Nick Macfie and Kevin Liffey)

Trump’s halt to WHO funding prompts condemnation as coronavirus cases near 2 million

By Jeff Mason and Paulina Duran

WASHINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to halt funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic prompted condemnation on Wednesday from world leaders as recorded global infections approached the 2 million mark.

Trump, who has reacted angrily to accusations his administration’s response to the worst epidemic in a century was haphazard and too slow, had become increasingly hostile towards the U.N. agency before announcing the halt on Tuesday.

The WHO, which is based in Geneva, had promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred, Trump said.

He said WHO had failed to investigate credible reports from sources in China’s Wuhan province, where the virus was first identified in December, that conflicted with Beijing’s accounts about the spread and “parroted and publicly endorsed” the idea that human to human transmission was not happening.

“The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday.

A U.S. official told Reuters that Trump made the move despite pushback within his administration, especially from top health advisers. There was no immediate reaction from the WHO, which has been appealing for more than $1 billion to fund operations against the pandemic.

The United States is the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.

Some 1.99 million people globally have been infected and nearly 128,000 have died since the disease emerged in China late last year, according to a Reuters tally.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.

“Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences,” he said in a statement.

China, which has won WHO praise for its actions to curb the virus’s spread, urged the United States on Wednesday to fulfil its obligations to the WHO.

“This decision weakens the WHO’s capability and harms international cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter: “Deeply regret U.S. decision to suspend funding to WHO. There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said apportioning blame did not help. “The virus knows no borders,” he said in a tweet.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the WHO was essential to tackling the pandemic.

“At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that,” she said. “We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions.”

GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html

‘BLAME CHINA, NOT WHO’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he sympathised with Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, especially its “unfathomable” support of re-opening China’s “wet markets”, where freshly slaughtered, and live, animals are sold.

“But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them,” Morrison told an Australian radio station.

“We are not going to throw the baby out of with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism.”

John Sawers, the former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service, said China concealed crucial information about the outbreak from the rest of the world and that it would be better to hold China responsible rather than the WHO.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who headed the WHO from 1998 to 2003, said an attack on the organization was “the last thing we need right now” since it had the power and ability to oversee the outbreak.

In its latest Strategy Update, the WHO said countries that ease restrictions should wait at least two weeks to evaluate the impact before easing again.

It said that the world stands at a “pivotal juncture”.

More than 2,200 people died in the United States on Tuesday, a record toll according to a Reuters tally, even as it debated how to reopen its economy.

New York City, hardest hit by the outbreak, revised its death toll sharply up to more than 10,000, to include victims presumed to have died of the lung disease but never tested.

U.S. health advocacy group Protect Our Care said Trump’s WHO funding withdrawal was “a transparent attempt … to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation”.

Global stocks fell as oil prices dropped and warnings of the worst global recession since the 1930s underscored the economic damage done by the pandemic. The International Energy Agency forecast a 29 million barrel per day dive in April oil demand to levels not seen in 25 years.

Denmark became the latest country to ease its coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday, by reopening schools and day care centres. But concerns they might become breeding grounds for a second wave of cases convinced thousands of parents to keep their children at home.

(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in a separate browser for an interactive graphic to track the global spread)

(Reporting from Reuters bureaux across the world; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Restarting crucial industries

India is planning to restart some crucial manufacturing to ease the difficulties of the poor, despite expectations it will extend a 21-day lockdown beyond April 15, two government sources said.

Spain lifts restrictions on some businesses on Monday after shutting down all non-essential operations nearly two weeks ago. This will allow businesses that cannot operate remotely, including construction and manufacturing, to reopen. The move has been criticised by some as risking a resurgence in the spread of the virus.

Patients testing positive again

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday that it was looking into reports of COVID-19 patients testing positive again after clinically recovering from the disease.

South Korean officials had reported on Friday that 91 patients cleared of the new coronavirus had tested positive again. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a briefing that the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than the patients being re-infected.

Russian border becomes China’s new frontline

China’s northeastern border with Russia has become its new frontline in the fight against a resurgence in the epidemic, as new daily cases rose to a six-week high.

Half of the imported cases from the daily tally involved Chinese nationals returning home from Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District through border crossings in the Heilongjiang province.

Widespread testing needed

The United States needs to ramp up testing for the coronavirus as the White House considers when and how to lift stay-at-home restrictions and lockdowns triggered by the pandemic, U.S. health experts said on Sunday.

Diagnostic testing determines if somebody is infected with the virus and antibody testing shows who has been infected and is therefore immune. Both will be important in getting people back into the workplace and containing the virus as that happens, the experts said.

‘Ghosts’ patrol streets to keep Indonesians indoors

An Indonesian village on Java island has summoned up ghosts to help it persuade locals to stay indoors during the coronavirus outbreak.

The ghosts are in fact villagers dressed up as “pocong”, ghostly figures wrapped in white shrouds with powdered faces and kohl-rimmed eyes.

“We wanted to be different and create a deterrent effect because ‘pocong’ are spooky and scary,” said Anjar Pancaningtyas, head of a village youth group that coordinated with the police on the unconventional initiative.

In Indonesian folklore, “pocong” represent the trapped souls of the dead.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh)

Factbox: Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) voiced deep concern on Wednesday about the rapid escalation and global spread of the coronavirus. “In the next few days, we will reach 1 million confirmed cases and 50,000 deaths worldwide,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

DEATHS, INFECTIONS

** More than 935,000 people have been infected across the world and over 46,900 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

** For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

** U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

EUROPE

** Italy’s daily death toll on Wednesday was the lowest in six days, but the overall number of new infections grew and the government extended a national lockdown until at least mid-April.

** Britain’s prime minister promised to ramp up testing after his government faced criticism for being slower than some European peers to roll out mass checks.

** France became the fourth country to exceed 4,000 deaths, while Spain’s death toll topped 10,000.

** The restrictive measures Ireland put in place last week may well be extended beyond the initial deadline of April 12, deputy prime minister said.

** The separatist government of Spain’s Catalonia region abandoned its initial reluctance and asked the national military for assistance.

** Serbia will revoke a decree giving the government control over information on the outbreak, following protests and the detention of a journalist for reporting a major hospital lacked protective gear and properly trained staff.

** Poland may face a peak in infections in April, government spokesman said, adding that further curbs on people’s movements could not be ruled out.

** EU executive chief expressed concern that restriction measures taken by Hungary went too far and insisted they should be limited in time and subject to scrutiny.

AMERICAS

** Four new states imposed sweeping stay-at-home directives on Wednesday, putting over 80% of Americans under lockdown as the number of deaths in the United States nearly doubled in three days.

** About 1,000 sailors from a virus-hit U.S. aircraft carrier were under quarantine at a U.S. naval base on Guam on Thursday.

** Presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro discussed cooperation between United States and Brazil, as Brazil’s health minister warned that infection rates and lack of medical supplies were a big concern.

** Brazil confirmed its first indigenous coronavirus case deep in the Amazon rainforest.

** Mexico’s president urged companies to keep paying workers or face public scorn, even as criticism of his economic management grows.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

** Mainland China logged fewer new infections on Thursday, but measures restricting movement were tightened in some areas due to a fear of more imported cases.

** India reported its biggest single day increase in cases as officials raced to track down some 9,000 people exposed to the country’s biggest infection cluster during a Muslim missionary group’s gathering last month.

** Facing calls to declare a state of emergency, Japan’s prime minister was derided on social media for instead offering people cloth masks, pointing to growing frustration with his handling of the crisis.

** Indonesia plans to give special assistance to residents of Jakarta within two weeks to limit the exodus from the capital during the Ramadan holiday period.

** South Korea will allow coronavirus patients to vote by mail or as absentees in parliamentary elections this month.

** WHO expects the number of cases in Malaysia to peak in mid-April, saying there are signs of a flattening of the infection curve.

** Singapore suffered its fourth death on Thursday, a day after it reported a record number of new cases that took its total to 1,000.

** Australia’s most populous state said police enforcement of restrictions on personal movement would last three months.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

** Iran’s president said the United States had missed an opportunity to lift sanctions on his country, though he said the penalties had not hampered Tehran’s fight against the virus which has killed more than 3,100 people in the country.

** Turkey’s tourism minister said he expected flights to return to normal by the end of June, as the country planned to step up measures if the virus keeps spreading and people ignore “voluntary” quarantine rules.

** Israel’s health minister and his wife were diagnosed with the virus.

** Egypt has ordered manufacturers to channel medical protective equipment to public hospitals.

** Zambia recorded its first death.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

** World stocks were pinned down on Thursday by the rising death toll and deepening economic pain, with another record week of jobless claims expected in the United States. [MKTS/GLOB]

** World food prices fell sharply in March, hit by a drop in demand and a plunge in global oil prices, the United Nations food agency said.

** The European Commission will propose a package to help the EU economy, including a short-time work scheme, easier access to funds for farmers and fishermen, and financing for development projects.

** British consumers will receive a three-month freeze on loan and credit card payments, under plans outlined by the financial regulator.

** Kuwait’s central bank announced a stimulus package to support vital sectors and small and medium enterprises.

** China will relax or remove restrictions on car purchases in some regions to help sales of new vehicles, while accelerating plans to boost the scrapping of old ones.

** Light vehicle sales in the United States fell nearly 27% in March, compared with a month earlier.

** Mexico’s economy is forecast to contract by as much as 3.9% in 2020, the finance ministry said on Wednesday, adding that the numbers incorporated a “drastic” virus impact.

** Factories fell quiet across much of the world in March as the pandemic paralyzed economic activity, with evidence mounting that the world is sliding into deep recession.

(Compiled by Sarah Morland, Milla Nissi, Aditya Soni and Uttaresh.V; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, William Maclean, Sriraj Kalluvila)

Coronavirus could kill 81,000 in U.S., subside in June – Washington University analysis

By Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic could kill more than 81,000 people in the United States in the next four months and may not subside until June, according to a data analysis done by University of Washington School of Medicine.

The number of hospitalized patients is expected to peak nationally by the second week of April, though the peak may come later in some states. Some people could continue to die of the virus as late as July, although deaths should be below epidemic levels of 10 per day by June at the latest, according to the analysis.

The analysis, using data from governments, hospitals and other sources, predicts that the number of U.S. deaths could vary widely, ranging from as low as around 38,000 to as high as around 162,000.

The variance is due in part to disparate rates of the spread of the virus in different regions, which experts are still struggling to explain, said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study.

The duration of the virus means there may be a need for social distancing measures for longer than initially expected, although the country may eventually be able relax restrictions if it can more effectively test and quarantine the sick, Murray said.

The analysis also highlights the strain that will be placed on hospitals. At the epidemic’s peak, sick patients could exceed the number of available hospital beds by 64,000 and could require the use of around 20,000 ventilators. Ventilators are already running short in hard-hit places like New York City.

The virus is spreading more slowly in California, which could mean that peak cases there will come later in April and social distancing measures will need to be extended in the state for longer, Murray said.

Louisiana and Georgia are predicted to see high rates of contagion and could see a particularly high burden on their local healthcare systems, he added.

The analysis assumes close adherence to infection prevention measures imposed by federal, state and local governments.

“The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions,” Murray said in a statement.

The analysis comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States continue to mount, with the World Health Organization saying the country has the potential to become the world’s new epicenter of the virus.

The coronavirus causes a respiratory illness that in a minority of severe cases ravages the lungs and can lead to death.

The United States has reported around 70,000 cases of the virus and more than 900 deaths since January. Globally, it has infected more than half a million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The University of Washington has been at the center of the outbreak in United States, which first was detected in the state of Washington and has so far killed 100 people in that state, according to date from Johns Hopkins University.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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)

Exclusive: Elite hackers target WHO as coronavirus cyberattacks spike

By Raphael Satter, Jack Stubbs and Christopher Bing

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – Elite hackers tried to break into the World Health Organization earlier this month, sources told Reuters, part of what a senior agency official said was a more than two-fold increase in cyberattacks.

WHO Chief Information Security Officer Flavio Aggio said the identity of the hackers was unclear, but the effort was unsuccessful. He warned that hacking attempts against the agency and its partners have soared as they battle to contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 15,000 worldwide.

The attempted break-in at the WHO was first flagged to Reuters by Alexander Urbelis, a cybersecurity expert and attorney with the New York-based Blackstone Law Group, which tracks suspicious internet domain registration activity.

Urbelis said he picked up on the activity around March 13, when a group of hackers he’d been following activated a malicious site mimicking the WHO’s internal email system.

“I realized quite quickly that this was a live attack on the World Health Organization in the midst of a pandemic,” he said.

Urbelis said he didn’t know who was responsible, but two other sources briefed on the matter said they suspected an advanced group of hackers known as DarkHotel, which has been conducting cyber-espionage operations since at least 2007.

Messages sent to email addresses maintained by the hackers went unreturned.

When asked by Reuters about the incident, the WHO’s Aggio confirmed that the site spotted by Urbelis had been used in an attempt to steal passwords from multiple agency staffers.

“There has been a big increase in targeting of the WHO and other cybersecurity incidents,” Aggio said in a telephone interview. “There are no hard numbers, but such compromise attempts against us and the use of (WHO) impersonations to target others have more than doubled.”

The WHO published an alert last month – available here warning that hackers are posing as the agency to steal money and sensitive information from the public.

The motives in the case identified by Reuters aren’t clear. United Nations agencies, the WHO among them, are regularly targeted by digital espionage campaigns and Aggio declined to say who precisely at the organization the hackers had in their sights.

Cybersecurity firms including Romania’s Bitdefender and Moscow-based Kaspersky said they have traced many of DarkHotel’s operations to East Asia – an area that has been particularly affected by the coronavirus. Specific targets have included government employees and business executives in places such as China, North Korea, Japan, and the United States.

Costin Raiu, head of global research and analysis at Kaspersky, could not confirm that DarkHotel was responsible for the WHO attack but said the same malicious web infrastructure had also been used to target other healthcare and humanitarian organizations in recent weeks.

“At times like this, any information about cures or tests or vaccines relating to coronavirus would be priceless and the priority of any intelligence organization of an affected country,” he said.

Officials and cybersecurity experts have warned that hackers of all stripes are seeking to capitalize on international concern over the spread of the coronavirus.

Urbelis said he has tracked thousands of coronavirus-themed web sites being set up daily, many of them obviously malicious.

“It’s still around 2,000 a day,” he said. “I have never seen anything like this.”

(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Chris Sanders and Edward Tobin)