《TAIPEI TIMES》Concern as virus case reported in sub-Saharan Africa
REGIONAL EPICENTERS: The biggest death toll outside China is in Iran, where 34 people have died, while South Korea has reported more than 2,000 COVID-19 infections
/ AFP, LAGOS
Nigeria yesterday reported the first COVID-19 case in sub-Saharan Africa and a major global auto show was canceled in a bid to stop contagion, as the deadly epidemic sent global stock markets and oil prices plunging.
The coronavirus has proliferated around the globe over the past week, emerging in every continent except Antarctica, prompting many governments and businesses to try to stop people traveling or gathering in crowded places.
Switzerland yesterday became the latest nation to announce drastic measures, saying that all events with more than 1,000 participants would be suspended until March 15.
The ban forced the cancelation of the Geneva International Motor Show — a major event on the global auto industry calendar — that was due to start next week.
The coronavirus has killed more than 2,800 people and infected more than 83,000 worldwide — the vast majority in China — since it emerged apparently from an animal market in Wuhan, China, in late December last year.
The number of deaths and new infections has been tapering off in China, following unprecedented quarantine efforts locking down tens of millions of people in the worst-hit cities, but infections elsewhere have started to surge, with Iran, Italy and South Korea becoming the major new hotspots and cases being confirmed in about 50 nations.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday said that the world was at a “decisive point” and nations could still contain the epidemic if they “act aggressively now.”
“No country should assume it won’t get cases; that could be a fatal mistake, quite literally. This virus does not respect borders,” Tedros said in Geneva, Switzerland.
The WHO has voiced particular concern about Africa’s preparedness, warning that the continent’s healthcare systems are ill-equipped to respond to a COVID-19 epidemic.
Cases had previously been reported in Egypt and Algeria, but not in the sub-Saharan region until yesterday, when Nigeria reported its first case: an Italian man who returned to densely populated Lagos this week.
Stock markets around the world have plummeted this week as it has become increasingly clear the coronavirus would take a huge toll on the global economy.
European exchanges yesterday lost more than 3 percent, tracking huge losses in Asia and the US.
Oil prices also dived 4 percent to their lowest levels for more than a year, with Brent crude for April delivery sinking as low as US$50.05 a barrel.
British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA said it was expecting “weaker demand” as a result of the coronavirus, while no-frills carrier EasyJet PLC said it would have to cancel some flights — particularly to and from Italy.
Analysts have warned that China, the world’s second-largest economy, would see a major cut in growth this quarter as the nation remains largely paralyzed by quarantines and containment measures.
However, signs in China offered hope that the outbreak could be contained.
China yesterday reported 44 more deaths, raising its toll to 2,788, with 327 new cases — the lowest daily figure for new infections in more than a month.
The biggest concern for health officials, though, was outside of China, with governments this week forced into increasingly drastic measures in an attempt to battle spiraling cases.
The biggest death toll outside China is in Iran, where 34 people have died. As elsewhere, the coronavirus has mostly killed the elderly or people who had other health conditions.
South Korea now has the most cases outside China, with more than 2,000 infections and 13 deaths.
The coronavirus has had wide-ranging impact, even forcing K-pop megastars BTS to cancel four Seoul concerts due to be held in April.
Italy is Europe’s epicenter with 650 cases and 17 deaths centered around cities in the north.
Wide-ranging measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus have affected tens of millions of people, with schools closed, and cultural and sporting events canceled.
Belarus, Lithuania and New Zealand were the latest to report new cases, with links to Italy or Iran.
However, US President Donald Trump downplayed the risk of a major epidemic in his nation and accused some media outlets of needlessly causing panic.
That was despite his government’s own health officials telling communities to prepare for an epidemic.
Authorities in California on Thursday said that they were monitoring 8,400 people for the coronavirus, after officials confirmed a woman had contracted the disease without traveling to outbreak-hit regions.
A specialist walks inside a mobile unit set up by the Peruvian Ministry of Health to deal with possible COVID-19 cases at Hipolito Unanue Hospital in Lima on Thursday. Photo: AFP