Read updates in Chinese: 新冠病毒疫情最新消息汇总
Here’s what you need to know:
- The virus sweeps the globe, with cases in at least 47 countries.
- Federal rules delayed testing of a California patient.
- Japan moves to close all of its schools to contain the virus.
- South Korea and U.S. call off joint military exercises.
- German authorities scramble to find all those who came into contact with infected man.
The virus sweeps the globe, with cases in at least 47 countries.
The fight to contain the coronavirus entered a new and potentially alarming phase on Thursday as public health officials in the United States and Germany grappled with patients who exhibited no known connection to others with the illness.
That raised the possibility that the virus could have begun to spread locally by unknown means, or that infected people had spread the illness to others sequentially, making it virtually impossible for the authorities to find and isolate the origin.
Either way, the two cases, thousands of miles apart, underscored how quickly the virus was making its way around the globe after first emerging in China late last year, and how difficult it was proving to contain.
“We have before us a crisis, an epidemic that is coming, we know that certain countries are already much more affected than us,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Thursday. “We are going to have to confront it as best we can, even as life goes on.”
As the number of cases in Japan has steadily risen, the government took the extreme step of closing all schools through March in an effort to combat the outbreak.
President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the American effort to combat the virus, while maps tracking new cases continued to light up in countries around the globe.
During the news conference, the Trump administration continued to send mixed messages about the virus, with public health officials warning of potentially “major disruptions,” while President Trump blamed Democrats and cable news channels for overstating the threat.
Financial markets, whose performance Mr. Trump has used as a benchmark for his presidency, continued their week long declines in Asia and Europe, which often prefigure results in the United States.
In Europe, Denmark, Estonia, Norway and Romania all reported their first cases, while several other countries registered new infections that illustrated the diverse ways the pathogen could cross borders.
Two new cases in Britain, for instance, were linked to Italy and to Tenerife in the Canary Islands of Spain.
While the spread of the virus from northern Italy has been taking place for some time, the spread from Tenerife — where a hotel visited by an Italian doctor who tested positive for the virus remains locked down — would be a first.
In the Middle East, concerns were building about the extent and severity of the outbreak in Iran.
Tehran was characteristically parsimonious with information, and what it did broadcast seemed sketchy and unreliable. The government said on Thursday that 245 people had been infected and that 26 had died. But given a mortality rate that experts have put at around 2 percent, the death toll would suggest that at least 1,100 people had contracted the virus.
Perhaps a better indication of the government’s concern was the decision to cancel Friday Prayers, a cornerstone ritual of the Islamic Republic.
Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak
The virus has infected more than 82,400 people in China and at least 46 other countries.
Federal rules delayed testing of a California patient.
A person in California who was not exposed to anyone known to be infected with the coronavirus, and who had not traveled to countries where it is circulating, had to wait days to be tested because of restrictive federal criteria, despite doctors’ suggestions.
The patient, who has tested positive, may be the first person to be infected through community spread in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the person was first admitted last week.
But the C.D.C. has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
The C.D.C. could not be immediately reached for comment.
The new case, in which the source of infection is unknown, is cause for concern, experts said.
“That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there, and we have already started some low-grade transmission,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
Japan moves to close all of its schools to contain the virus.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all of Japan’s schools to close for a month to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. The country is the second, after China, to shutter schools nationwide over the epidemic.
Speaking before a coronavirus task force meeting on Thursday, Mr. Abe said he was “putting a priority on children’s health and safety” and trying to pre-empt a widespread outbreak that could result “from gatherings of many children and teachers for a long time on a daily basis.”
The number of coronavirus cases has steadily risen in Japan, reaching 186, including four deaths. There have also been more than 700 cases and four deaths from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.
Mr. Abe said schools should remain closed through spring break. The Japanese school year ends in March, and the new year usually starts at the beginning of April.
He specifically requested that all elementary, middle and high schools close. He did not mention universities or day-care centers.
The move toward a countrywide shutdown follows a decision on Wednesday by the Education Board of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, to close more than 1,600 schools in the prefecture until at least March 4. Hokkaido has had 54 confirmed cases and two deaths from the virus.
Hours before Mr. Abe spoke, the mayor of Osaka said he had requested that schools in the city, Japan’s third largest, be closed until March 13.
South Korea and U.S. call off joint military exercises.
The fast-growing coronavirus outbreak touched South Korea’s military alliance with the United States on Thursday, as the two countries announced that they would postpone their joint spring military exercise.
The decision came as South Korea reported 505 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total number to 1,766, the largest outbreak outside of China. Most of the patients were from Daegu, a city in southeastern South Korea, and in nearby towns.
On Wednesday, the United States military reported the first case of a soldier being infected. The soldier was stationed at a base near Daegu.
Both South Korea and the United States said their annual spring combined training, originally scheduled to take place next month, would be postponed “until further notice.”
South Korea has placed itself on the highest possible alert to deal with the outbreak, suspending nonessential military training and placing more than 9,500 troops under quarantine. It has also barred most of its enlisted soldiers from taking leave.
German authorities scramble to find all those who came into contact with infected man.
Health officials in Germany reacted aggressively on Thursday after a man with no known connection to anyone infected with the coronavirus tested positive for the illness.
In addition to closing schools in the community where he lived, they reached out to hundreds of people who took part in a carnival celebration over the weekend where the man was also present, urging them to stay home for 14 days.
Karl-Josef Laumann, the health minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the man lives, said that the authorities were still trying to figure out how the man had contracted the virus.
He remains critically ill and cannot provide information about his recent travels, including the period of time when he was infected and contagious but not showing symptoms.
Still, German officials said they would resist taking measures like those seen in China and, to a lesser extent, in Italy, where entire towns and cities have been locked down.
They cautioned against panic, pointing to success in preventing the spread of the virus last month through simply encouraging people to stay home.
After a man from China infected several employees of an auto producer in Bavaria in January, about 400 people who could have been at risk of spreading the virus were identified and placed in isolation in their homes.
That effectively stopped the spread of the virus, and there are no known cases of infection at this time, said Dr. Lothar H. Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, the German government’s disease control and prevention agency.
Germany is in a much better position to limit the spread of the virus than China was in December, Dr. Wieler said, having the benefit of learning from the experience of the Chinese and others in coping with the infection.
“They did not know what the virus even was,” Dr. Wieler noted. “The situations cannot be compared.”
Australian prime minister warns of a “global pandemic.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, sharply criticized for his sluggish response to the wildfires in recent months, said Thursday that his government would enact an emergency response plan for a pandemic the global health authorities have yet to declare.
“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us,” he said. “And as a result, as a government we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”
That will include, among other things, extending a ban through March 7 on foreigners who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days. There have been 22 confirmed cases of the virus in Australia, with no deaths.
Mr. Morrison said that Australians should continue to attend schools and mass gatherings, play outdoors and eat in restaurants.
“You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly, Australia has gotten ahead of it at this point of time,” he said. “But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase.”
Wall Street is expected to open lower, again.
U.S. stock markets appeared poised for another drop when trading starts Thursday morning — the sixth consecutive downbeat open — as investors continue to dump stocks and seek safer investments amid the widening coronavirus outbreak.
Futures markets were forecasting the lower open, following a slide among global markets. European markets were trading about 2.5 percent lower after the Nikkei in Japan closed down 2.1 percent. Oil prices also fell, while the price of gold rose, signaling continued nervousness among global investors.
Shares in China bucked the general trend, with Shanghai rising 0.1 percent. Regulators and government-controlled investors often step in to help the country’s stock market in troubled times.
The outbreak has taken a toll on multinational companies. On Thursday, Anheuser-Busch InBev joined the chorus, as the brewer forecast a steep drop in quarterly profit. Marriott, the American hotel company, said the virus would weigh on its fee revenue this year.
Companies have scaled back their travel. The French cosmetics giant L’Oréal on Thursday suspended all business travel for its 86,000 employees until the end of March. Nestlé, the Swiss-based food company, said it would suspend all international business trips for its 290,000 workers until mid-March.
The Times begins a newsletter on the crisis.
The Times is beginning a coronavirus newsletter, an informed guide to the outbreak with the latest developments and expert advice about prevention and treatment.
Every day at 6 p.m. Eastern (7 a.m. in Hong Kong), we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know about this far-reaching and fast-moving story.
Pakistan confirmed its first two cases, both with connections to Iran.
The authorities in Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed the first two cases of the coronavirus in the country, with officials urging calm amid concerns about a national outbreak.
One of the patients was identified as a 22-year-old student who had recently returned from Iran. The student reached the Pakistani city of Karachi on Feb. 22 after a flight from Tehran and was admitted to Aga Khan University Hospital on Feb. 26 after developing symptoms. The second patient, who had also recently visited Iran, was admitted to a hospital in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, officials said.
Pakistan closed its border with Iran on Sunday.
Dr. Zafar Mirza, the Pakistani health minister, said this month that the country was strictly following directions from the World Health Organization and had been effectively screening travelers at airports.
The western province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran, is a particularly vulnerable area. Smugglers and human traffickers slip easily through the porous frontier, and it is one of the most impoverished regions of Pakistan, with health care facilities that are lacking or nonexistent in many places.
Imran Khan Zarkoon, the director general of Baluchistan Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said on Sunday that pilgrims returning from holy sites in Iran were being screened in the town of Taftan. As many as 10,000 masks have been delivered to the border authorities, he added, and there were plans to set up a tent city for at least 3,000 people there.
“Coronavirus has been detected in Qom in Iran, and pilgrims from Pakistan visit Qom and other religious sites, so pilgrims are at the greatest risk,” Mr. Zarkoon said.
“We are hoping that there is not a major outbreak in Iran,” he added. “Even if one infected person manages to cross our border, it will be very difficult for us to manage. That is why we are taking all steps to ensure protective measures.”
The Pakistani government has not evacuated its hundreds of citizens, mostly students, from China, primarily out of concern that its frail health care system would be unable to contain a possible spread of the virus.
Chinese official says some lockdown measures went too far.
Some of the lockdown tactics used to stop the spread of the virus in China went too far, a top Chinese security official said on Wednesday.
Du Hangwei, the vice minister of public security, said at a news conference that some members of China’s security forces had practiced “excessive enforcement, simplistic enforcement, and crude enforcement” of quarantines and other containment measures.
It was a rare admission by a Chinese official of excessive force in response to the outbreak.
China has implemented residential lockdowns of varying strictness on at least 760 million people, or more than half the country’s population, according to a New York Times analysis of government announcements in provinces and major cities.
Some episodes of seemingly overzealous enforcement have caused outrage. Videos of local officials in Henan tying up pedestrians who were not wearing face masks were shared widely on social media. In Chongqing, officials paraded four residents through the streets, shaming them for gathering to play mahjong at home.
“The relentless management triggered people’s panic and anxiety,” Mr. Du said.
Saudis halt religious visits to Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday temporarily barred Muslim pilgrims from entering the country to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as the kingdom tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a stark illustration of the fear the epidemic has stirred.
The Saudi royal family derives much of its stature in the Islamic world from its status as guardians of the holy sites, and it very rarely closes them off. The Saudi response contrasts with that of Iran, which has kept its pilgrimage sites open, despite a significant coronavirus outbreak there, and evidence that people who had visited Iran had spread the virus to other countries.
Each year, millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, or Umrah, which can take place at any time of year; the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to make at least once, takes place in a specific part of the lunar year, which this year falls in midsummer.
Many Muslims also visit the mosque in Medina that was established by the Prophet Muhammad.
The government is “suspending entry into the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily,” the government-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Reporting and research was contributed by Sheri Fink, Melissa Eddy, Salman Masood, Marc Santora, Russell Goldman, Carlos Tejada, Kevin Granville, Geneva Abdul, Choe Sang-Hun, Zoe Mou, Daniel Victor, Roni Caryn Rabin, Denise Grady, David Yaffe-Bellany, Ed Shanahan, Andrew Keh and Ben Dooley.