In South Korea, death toll rises as new cases skyrocket to more than 760.
South Korea on Monday reported 161 more cases of the virus that causes the disease Covid-19, bringing the nation’s total to 763 cases and seven deaths.
President Moon Jae-in on Sunday put South Korea on the highest possible alert in its fight against the coronavirus, a move that empowers the government to lock down cities and take other sweeping measures to contain the outbreak.
“The coming few days will be a critical time for us,” he said at an emergency meeting of government officials to discuss the outbreak. “The central government, local governments, health officials and medical personnel and the entire people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem.”
Many of South Korea’s coronavirus cases are in the southeastern city of Daegu, which has essentially been placed under a state of emergency, though people are still free to enter and leave the city.
More than half of the people confirmed to have been infected are either members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious sect with a strong presence in Daegu, or their relatives or other contacts.
Markets plunge in response to outbreak’s spread.
A slide in stock markets that began late last week appeared to accelerate across Asia on Monday morning, as investors appeared to fear that the economic disruption already seen in China because of the coronavirus outbreak might have effects elsewhere.
The South Korean market slumped nearly 3 percent in early trading, after a surge in cases of the coronavirus disease confirmed there over the weekend. The Australian market dropped a little over 2 percent in early trading, while the Hong Kong market was down more than 1 percent. Futures markets trading suggested that American and European stock markets may be down a little over 1 percent in early trading as well when they open.
The Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets were down only slightly. “The worse the virus outbreak, the better the chance the central bank will release” more money into the financial system, which would tend to support share prices, said Hao Hong, the research director for the international operations of China’s Bank of Communications.
The stock market in Japan was closed on Monday, a public holiday there in honor of the emperor’s birthday.
The coronavirus epidemic in China has already severely curtailed economic growth in China. Factories have been slow to reopen, partly because mass quarantines have prevented many employees from returning to their jobs but also because demand in China has at least temporarily collapsed for a wide range of goods. Auto sales plummeted 92 percent in the first two weeks of February compared to the same time last year.
One of the big questions facing investors now lies in whether economies elsewhere will be similarly affected. Italy locked down at least 10 towns over the weekend in response to an outbreak there. South Korea also now faces a rapidly growing number of cases as well, and President Moon Jae-in on Sunday put the country on its highest level of alert.
Europe confronts coronavirus as Italy scrambles to contain spike in cases.
As Italy scrambled on Sunday to contain the first major coronavirus outbreak in Europe, a new nervousness pervaded the continent, with officials in nearby countries pledging to keep the outbreak from spreading further.
The virus presents Europe with perhaps its greatest challenge since the 2015 migration crisis, which radically altered the politics of the European Union and exposed its institutional weaknesses. If the virus spreads, the fundamental principle of open borders within much of Europe — so central to the identity of the bloc — will undergo a stress test, as will the vaunted but strained European public health systems, especially in countries that have undergone austerity measures.
A European commissioner said the European Union was in constant contact with the authorities in Italy. And France’s health minister, Olivier Veran, said at a news conference on Sunday that the country was watching the “problematic situation” in Italy closely.
The spike in Italy has already prompted an aggressive response from Italian officials. The country locked down more than 50,000 people in 10 towns in the northern Lombardy region, where a sizable cluster of coronavirus infections has emerged, and passed emergency measures that apply throughout the country.
Residents on lockdown were supposed to leave or enter their towns only with special permission. Police and armed forces personnel were deployed to monitor the entrances to the towns. Officials closed schools and canceled the last two days of the Venice carnival, which draws thousands of people from around the world, and canceled trade fairs, opera performances and soccer matches.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy rose to 152, officials said on Sunday, from three on Thursday. More than 100 of those cases are in the Lombardy region. At least three people have died, including a 77-year-old woman and a 78-year-old man, and at least 26 are in intensive care, officials said.
Pakistan and Turkey close their borders with Iran as cases there rise.
Pakistan and Turkey temporarily closed their borders with Iran on Sunday, as Tehran announced a weeklong closing of schools, universities and cultural centers across 14 provinces in an effort to curb the coronavirus.
The outbreak has killed at least eight people in Iran, state television said — the largest number of reported coronavirus-linked deaths outside China.
Long lines have formed outside pharmacies and there is a shortage of masks and disinfectants, according to health officials and people in Iran. Officials have warned that hospitals are overstretched and said that people should refrain from going to the emergency room unless they have acute symptoms.
Although the origin of the outbreak in Iran is unclear, the Fars news agency on Sunday quoted the country’s health minister as saying that Chinese carriers of the virus were a source of the outbreak in Iran.
Just days ago, Iran said it was untouched by the virus, and the sudden increase in cases has raised concerns that it may be experiencing a significant outbreak. Iran’s health ministry said Saturday that 43 people had tested positive, with eight deaths, state-run Press TV reported.
Experts have said that based on the number of dead, the total number of cases is probably much higher, as Covid-19 appears to kill about one out of 50 people infected.
Pakistan’s 596-mile border with Iran is mostly porous, and controlling a potential spread of the coronavirus poses a major challenge.
Turkey’s health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said in a news conference, “Because of the fact that the picture in Iran is getting worse, we decided to temporarily shut down our border with our neighbor.”
Turkey has four border gates to Iran, and all of them were shut down.
Afghanistan’s National Security Council said on Sunday that all travel to Iran would be reduced to “essential humanitarian needs.”
Reporting and research was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun, Elisabetta Povoledo, Austin Ramzy, Motoko Rich, Makiko Inoue, Salman Masood, Mujib Mashal, Isabel Kershner, Tiffany May, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Tess Felder, Amy Harmon, Farah Stockman, Edward Wong, Vivian Wang, Mihir Zaveri, Katrin Bennhold and Constant Méheut.