The vast majority of coronavirus cases and deaths, there are now signs infections are spreading more rapidly within other Asian countries. Anxiety is creeping into financial markets, as investors weigh the impact of a wider regional outbreak on economic growth and corporate earnings.
“The sudden jump in infections in other parts of Asia, notably in Japan and South Korea, has sparked renewed concerns,” said Khoon Goh, Singapore-based head of Asiaresearch at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “This points to a new phase in the outbreak, and one which will see continued disruption and more economic impact than previously thought.”
The epidemic that emerged in December and infected more than 75,000 people in China has yet to become a pandemic — defined as a situation where the virus is spreading across multiple continents. So far, the numbers outside China remain comparatively small: of 2,247 deaths, only 11 have occurred in other regions. Yet there’s been a marked uptick in non-China cases this week.
Outside Asia, new cases have been spotted in Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Italy. Four people in Iran have died and at least 18 have been infected. Health authorities are worried about the development of local transmission there.
“The cases that we see that are not linked to China are very worrisome,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva. The window of opportunity to stop the spread in countries outside China is “really narrowing,” he said. “This outbreak could go in any direction.”
A new study published Friday estimated that about two-thirds of coronavirus cases exported from mainland China have gone undetected worldwide, potentially leaving sources of human-to-human transmission unchecked. The analysis, led by researchers at Imperial College London, used air-travel data to estimate what case counts should be in countries outside China.
“Undoubtedly, the exported cases vary in the severity of their clinical symptoms, making some cases more difficult to detect than others,” the researchers said in the analysis. “However, some countries have detected significantly fewer than would have been expected based on the volume of flight passengers arriving from Wuhan City, China.”
In Asia, South Korea saw infections double in 24 hours, with the surge tied to a cluster from a religious sect in Daegu. Most of the patients are among those who may have attended church services with a person who was confirmed with the virus earlier this week.
South Korean Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said authorities are aware of transmission channels and the current situation is “manageable.” Daegu has shut down public facilities and advised residents to stay indoors to try to contain the disease.
Even more alarming is the situation in Japan, which has emerged as one of the riskiest places outside China for the spread of the coronavirus. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Sunday that Japan had lost track of the route of some of the infections, which tripled in the past week to more than 90.
Italy towns close down as virus cases jump to 79
Italy’s prime minister announced a ban on people entering or leaving new coronavirus hotspots as the number of confirmed infections rose sharply to 79, in an outbreak that has claimed two lives in the country.
“In zones considered hotspots, neither entry or exit will be authorised without special permission,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said during a news conference, adding that businesses and schools in the areas would be closed.
The Italian outbreak is concentrated in the northern region of Lombardy. Officials raised the total confirmed cases to 79, from an earlier figure on Saturday of 39 in Lombardy, 12 in Veneto and 3 in Rome.