Govts ramp up preparations for coronavirus pandemic

28 February, 2020 12:00 AM printer

SYDNEY/SEOUL: Governments ramped up measures on Thursday to battle a looming global pandemic of the coronavirus as the number of new infections outside China for the first time surpassed new cases in the country where the outbreak began, reports Reuters.

Australia initiated emergency measures and Taiwan raised its epidemic response level to its highest, a day after US President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of the US response to the looming global health crisis.

The United States and South Korea postponed joint military drills to limit the spread of the virus, which has emerged far beyond China, where it originated late last year, apparently in a market selling wildlife in the city of Wuhan.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country, which has 23 cases of the virus, was operating on the basis of a pandemic and hospitals were under orders to ensure enough medical supplies, personal protective equipment and staff.

“There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,” Morrison told a news conference in Canberra.

“As a result we have agreed today and initiated the ... coronavirus emergency response plan.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called the outbreak a “crisis, an epidemic that is on the way”.

Stocks sunk deeper into the red, oil prices fell and U.S. Treasuries rallied into record territory as more signs of the global spread of the virus heightened fears of a pandemic.

Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out more than $3.6 trillion in value.

The coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed nearly 2,800, the majority in China. Much remains unknown about the virus but it is clear the ramifications of the world’s second-biggest economy in lockdown for a month or more are vast.

The rapid spread of the virus in different places - notably Italy, Iran and South Korea - in recent days has met the definition for a pandemic, and raised alarm. The World Health Organization has not used the word pandemic to describe this outbreak.

There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

In Japan, a woman has tested positive for the virus for a second time, the first known person in the country to do so, raising new concern about it.

Japan has more than 190 cases and is facing questions about the Olympic Games, due to begin in Tokyo on July 24. The government will ask schools to close from March 2 until around the end of the month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

There have been 3,246 cases outside China, including 51 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. A rash of countries have reported their first cases in the past couple of days with the latest being Denmark, in a man who returned from a ski holiday in Italy, and Estonia, in a man returning from Iran, media reported.