Bolsonaro threatens WHO exit as COVID-19 kills ‘a Brazilian per minute’

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization after the U.N. agency warned Latin American governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region.

A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed the county’s death toll past that of Italy late on Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to argue for quickly lifting state isolation orders, arguing that the economic costs outweigh public health risks.

Latin America’s most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico, are seeing the highest rates of new infections, though the pandemic is also gathering pace in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.

Overall, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans have been infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians that backed strict lockdowns in March and April are pushing to open economies back up as hunger and poverty grow.

In an editorial running the length of newspaper Folha de S.Paulo’s front page, the Brazilian daily highlighted that just 100 days had passed since Bolsonaro described the virus now “killing a Brazilian per minute” as “a little flu.”

“While you were reading this, another Brazilian died from the coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported late on Thursday that confirmed cases in the country had climbed past 600,000 and 1,437 deaths had been registered within 24 hours, the third consecutive daily record.

Brazil reported another 1,005 deaths Friday night, while Mexico reported 625 additional deaths.

With more than 35,000 lives lost, the pandemic has killed more people in Brazil than anywhere outside of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Asked about efforts to loosen social distancing orders in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a key criteria for lifting lockdowns was slowing transmission.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” she told a news conference in Geneva. Among six key criteria for easing quarantines, she said, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

In comments to journalists later Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ceases to be a “partisan political organization.”

President Donald Trump, an ideological ally of Bolsonaro, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with the WHO, accusing it of becoming a puppet of China, where the coronavirus first emerged.

Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the coronavirus risks to public health and efforts to lift state quarantines have drawn criticism from across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.

But many of those critics are divided about the safety and effectiveness of anti-government demonstrations in the middle of a pandemic, especially after one small protest was met with an overwhelming show of police force last weekend.

Alfonso Vallejos Parás, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said infections are high in Latin America as the virus was slow to gain a foothold in the region.

“It is hard to estimate when the pace of infection will come down,” he said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Gabriela Mello in Sao Paulo, Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Editing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 5-21-20

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

“A long way to go”

The World Health Organization is starting to raise the alarm bell about the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich nations emerge from lockdowns.

The global health body said on Wednesday 106,000 new cases had been recorded in the previous 24 hours, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.

“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Global coronavirus cases have surpassed 5 million, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases.

Vaccine: high hopes and a reality-check

The United States said it will pump up to $1.2 billion into developing AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and confirmed that it would order 300 million doses.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he hoped the first doses of the vaccine, which is being developed with the University of Oxford, would be available by October.

AstraZeneca meanwhile stressed it was still awaiting results from an early-stage trial to know if the vaccine worked at all.

China fur and traditional medicine trade to continue?

China’s parliament is preparing new laws to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife, following on from a temporary move in January after exotic animals traded in a Wuhan market were identified as the most likely source of COVID-19.

However, local action plans published this week suggest the country’s fur trade and lucrative traditional medicine sectors will continue as usual.

That means practices that lead to cross-species virus transmission could continue, said Peter Li, China policy specialist with Humane Society International, an animal rights group. China’s annual national session of parliament, delayed from March, starts on Friday.

Sports and sleepwear over suits and ties

The new bestsellers at Marks & Spencer are sportswear, sleepwear and bras, while sales of suits and ties are down to “a dribble”, as the lockdown transforms shoppers’ priorities, Britain’s biggest clothing retailer said on Wednesday.

What customers are buying is “completely different from what it would have been a year ago,” M&S chairman Archie Norman told reporters, after the 136-year-old group published annual results and its response to the pandemic.

Along with surging sales of jogging pants, hoodies and leggings, an emphasis on home comforts and family needs has boosted bedding sales by 150%.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Mark John; editing by Nick Macfie)

After WHO setback, Taiwan president to press for global participation

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will strive to actively participate in global bodies despite its failure to attend this week’s key World Health Organization (WHO) meeting, and will not accept being belittled by China, President Tsai Ing-wen will say on Wednesday.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won January’s presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide, vowing to stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its own, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed.

China views Tsai, who will be sworn into office for her second and final term on Wednesday, as a separatist bent on formal independence for Taiwan. She says Taiwan is already an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name.

Tsai will say at her inauguration that Taiwan will seek to “actively participate” in international bodies and deepen its cooperation with like-minded countries, generally a reference to the United States and its allies, according to an outline of her speech provided by Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang.

Taiwan sees the need for participation in WHO as all the more urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in China.

Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations like the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a sovereign state.

Despite an intense lobbying effort and strong support from the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and others, it was unable to take part in this week’s meeting of the World Health Assembly.

On relations with China, Tsai will reiterate her commitment to peace, dialogue and equality, but that Taiwan will not accept China’s “one country, two systems” model that “belittles” Taiwan.

China uses this system, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, to run the former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered it to Taiwan too, though all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.

Tsai will also pledge to speed up the development of “asymmetric warfare” capabilities, and boost renewable technologies in a move to position Taiwan as a hub of clean energy in the Asia Pacific.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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)

At least 300,000 Africans expected to die in pandemic: U.N. agency

By Joe Bavier

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic will likely kill at least 300,000 Africans and risks pushing 29 million into extreme poverty, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said on Friday, calling for a $100 billion safety net for the continent.

Africa’s 54 countries have so far reported fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases of the disease, just a fraction of the more than two million cases reported globally. But the World Health Organization warned on Thursday that Africa could see as many as 10 million cases in three to six months.

“To protect and build towards our shared prosperity at least $100 billion is needed to immediately resource a health and social safety net response,” the UNECA report stated.

UNECA is also backing a call by African finance ministers for an additional $100 billion in stimulus, which would include a halt to all external debt service.

The agency modelled four scenarios based on the level of preventive measures introduced by African governments.

In the total absence of such interventions, the study calculated over 1.2 billion Africans would be infected and 3.3 million would die this year. Africa has a total population of around 1.3 billion.

Most of Africa, however, has already mandated social distancing measures, ranging from curfews and travel guidelines in some countries to full lockdowns in others.

Yet even its best-case scenario, where governments introduce intense social distancing once a threshold of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people per week is reached, Africa would see 122.8 million infections, 2.3 million hospitalisations and 300,000 deaths.

Combating the disease will be complicated by the fact that 36% of Africans have no access to household washing facilities, and the continent counts just 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. France, in comparison, has 5.98 beds per 1,000 people.

Africa’s young demographic – nearly 60% of the population is below the age of 25 – should help stave off the disease. On the other hand, 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded slums and many people are also vulnerable due to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition.

Africa imports 94% of its pharmaceuticals, the report said, noting that at least 71 countries have banned or limited exports of certain supplies deemed essential to fight the disease.

“In a best-case scenario … $44 billion would be required for testing, personal protective equipment, and to treat all those requiring hospitalisation,” it stated.

However, that is money Africa does not have as the crisis could also shrink the continent’s economy by up to 2.6%.

“We estimate that between 5 million and 29 million people will be pushed below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day owing to the impact of COVID-19,” the report said.

Nigeria alone will lose between $14 billion and $19.2 billion in revenues from oil exports this year. And the prices of other African commodities exports have plummeted as well.

Lockdowns in Europe and the United States also imperil Africa’s $15 billion in annual textile and apparel exports as well as tourism, which accounts for 8.5% of Africa’s GDP.

(Reporting by Joe Bavier; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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)

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)