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SEOUL, Feb 21 ― The streets of South Korea's fourth-largest city were abandoned yesterday, with residents holed up indoors after dozens of people caught the new coronavirus in what authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church.
The deserted shopping malls and cinemas of Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people, became one of the most striking images outside China of an outbreak that international authorities are trying stop from becoming a global pandemic.
New research suggesting the virus is more contagious than previously thought added to the alarm.
In China, where the virus has killed more than 2,100 people and infected nearly 75,000, officials changed their methodology for reporting infections, creating new doubt about data they have cited as evidence their containment strategy is working.
US stocks fell yesterday and gold prices hit their highest in seven years as investors sought safe havens over worries about the coronavirus' economic impact. US manufacturers are scrambling for alternative sources as supply chains in China, the workshop of the world, dry up.
“If you look at today's chain of supply, if China suffers, everyone in the world will suffer as well,” China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Chen Xu, told reporters.
In South Korea, Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin told residents to stay indoors after 90 people who worshipped at one church showed symptoms and dozens of new cases were confirmed.
The church had been attended by a 61-year-old woman who tested positive, known as “Patient 31.” South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the outbreak there as a “super-spreading event.”
“We are in an unprecedented crisis,” Kwon told reporters, adding that all members of the church would be tested. “We've asked them to stay at home isolated from their families.”
Describing the abandoned streets, resident Kim Geun-woo, 28, told Reuters by telephone: “It's like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the city. It looks like a zombie apocalypse.”
South Korea now has 104 confirmed cases of the flu-like virus, and reported its first death.
In China, officials have been pointing to evidence that new cases are declining as proof they are succeeding in keeping the virus largely contained to Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the virus initially emerged.
“We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.
Some 25 other countries have reported 1,076 cases to the WHO, including five in Iran, the latest affected, he said. As a result, Kuwait Airways has suspended flights to Iran.
Iranian health officials urged all religious gatherings to be suspended in Qom, news agency ISNA said on Thursday, after two more people tested positive for the coronavirus in the holy city, where two died of it this week.
Beijing may be next hot spot
Japan reported the deaths of two elderly passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship on Thursday, the first fatalities from aboard the ship where more than 630 cases account for the biggest cluster of infection outside China.
Japan, due to host the Olympics in July, began allowing passengers who test negative to leave and hundreds disembarked on Wednesday and yesterday.
China's Global Times newspaper reported 36 new cases at one Beijing hospital as of yesterday, a sharp increase from nine cases two weeks earlier. It said this had led “many to fear a potential explosion of infection numbers in the capital.”
China has imposed severe controls in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, to halt the spread of the virus, and has taken urgent steps to keep the overall economy from crashing.
Yesterday, its central bank cut a borrowing rate, while the authorities extended an order for businesses in Wuhan to shut down until March 11. Schools in the city, which had been due to re-open today, will also stay shut.
“The economic and social impact of course is obvious, to what extent I cannot pre-judge. It is safe to say the cost will be very much,” said China's UN ambassador Chen, adding that masks, protective gear and respiratory machines are needed.
Revisions to China's methodology for confirming cases have raised doubts about its data. Under the latest methodology, which excludes cases identified by chest X-rays, China reported fewer than 400 new cases over the past day, less than a quarter of the number it had been finding in recent days under the previous broader method. ― Reuters
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