Coronavirus pushes across Europe and Middle East, while U.S. braces for arrival.
New cases of the coronavirus popping up across Europe. Dozens of new infections in Iran, stoking fears about the uncontrolled spread of the virus in the Middle East. Health authorities in the United States warning it was a matter of when, not if, the virus would invade its shores. A toxic political climate in Washington complicating the public health challenge.
That worrying drumbeat frayed nerves across the world on Wednesday, despite news that the pace of the outbreak seemed to be slowing in China, the epicenter of the virus, where more than 80,000 people have been infected and nearly 3,000 have died.
In the European Union, which prides itself on its open borders, new cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Switzerland. Most were tied to Italy, where the authorities have been struggling to contain an outbreak that has infected at least 325 people, most of them in the north near Milan.
Three hotels — in Austria, in France, and in the Canary Islands of Spain — were locked down this week after guests tested positive for the virus. The steps to limit contagion differed from place to place, but large group gatherings were often the first things to be canceled in towns and villages where the virus had been detected.
In Germany, two new cases were reported on Wednesday, including a man in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who was said to be in critical condition. It was unclear whether his illness was tied to the outbreak in Italy or to a different source.
In Asia, the Chinese authorities cautioned that the falling rate of infection might only be a temporary reprieve, while South Korean officials were still scrambling to contain the largest outbreak of the virus outside China. The U.S. military confirmed that one soldier stationed in South Korea had tested positive for the virus.
As the American health authorities braced for the virus’s arrival in the United States, the Trump administration came under withering criticism from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers for its contradictory statements on the severity of the crisis, lack of transparency and seemingly lackadaisical preparations.
As new cases soar in South Korea, a U.S. soldier there tests positive.
South Korea on Wednesday reported hundreds of new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 1,261 from 1,146. It is the largest outbreak outside of China.
Eighty-two of the new cases were found in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city is at the center of the country’s outbreak.
Also on Wednesday, an American soldier in South Korea tested positive for the virus, the U.S. military said.
The patient, a 23-year-old man, is stationed at Camp Carroll in Waegwan, only 12 miles from Daegu.
The soldier, the first U.S. service member to become infected, has been quarantined in his off-base residence, the military said.
The soldier visited Camp Walker, a military base in Daegu, on Monday and visited Camp Carroll from Friday to Tuesday.
South Korean and American “health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the military said.
The military added that it was “implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’” for all its 28,500 soldiers stationed in South Korea “as a prudent measure to protect the force.”
The U.S. military in South Korea elevated its risk level to “high” on Monday, advising all troops to “limit non-mission-essential” meetings and “off-installation travel.” At gates of the American military bases across South Korea, soldiers are being given temperature checks and screening questionnaires.
On Tuesday, the United States and South Korea said they would consider scaling back joint military exercise after an outbreak among South Korean soldiers had infected at least 13.
South Korea reported 284 new patients on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 1,261, the biggest outbreak outside China. More than half of the patients were residents of Daegu.
The U.S. military in Japan sent out a notice Wednesday telling all personnel there to avoid nonessential travel to South Korea.
Stock markets around the world continue to slide.
European markets fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday as investors weighed the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Asian markets ended the trading day lower, while futures pointed to a mixed start on Wall Street.
Investors have been dumping stocks all week, seeking safer investments like government bonds, as the outbreak spreads beyond Asia.
After health officials in Washington warned Americans to brace for the arrival of the coronavirus, the S&P 500 closed 3 percent lower on Tuesday.
In trading on Wednesday, the DAX in Germany fell 2.1 percent, and the FTSE 100 in Britain was 1.1 percent lower. In Asia, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 0.7 percent and the Shanghai Composite Index dropped by 0.8 percent.
Two more global companies provided estimates of the financial cost of the outbreak. Diageo, the British maker of alcoholic drinks like Johnnie Walker, said the loss in sales would cut profits by about 200 million pounds, or about $260 million, this year.
Danone, the French maker of dairy products and bottled water, said it expected the outbreak to cost it 100 million euros, or about $108 million, in lost sales in 2020.
Three European hotels are locked down as new cases spread across the Continent.
Two additional European hotels were put on lockdown on Wednesday, as coronavirus infections spread across the Continent.
The authorities in Innsbruck, an Austrian ski town in the Alps, sealed off the 108-room Grand Hotel after an Italian employee there tested positive for the virus. The cordon was the second at a European hotel in two days, after Spain on Tuesday cordoned off the H10 Costa Adeje Palace on the resort island of Tenerife after a guest, also from Italy, tested positive.
Each of the infected Italians had recently visited the Lombardy region of the country.
Though the virus originated in China, an outbreak in Italy has given it a foothold in Europe from which it has rapidly spread to at least five countries.
Spain, Austria, Croatia, Switzerland and France all reported cases linked to Lombardy on Tuesday.
In central France, the Ibis Center hotel in the Beaune was closed after a client from Hong Kong died during the night. While tests for the virus were underway, health authorities ordered that all 30 members of the guest’s group remain in the facility.
A boy was found alone at home where his grandfather died, prompting an outcry
A Chinese community worker checking on residents a in central Chinese city found a six-year-old boy fending for himself after his grandfather died at home. The discovery set off a wave of criticism on Chinese social media.
The worker in the city of Shiyan in Hubei Province, the heart of the coronavirus outbreak, had been conducting medical checks on residents on Monday when the boy answered the door.
The worker found that the boy’s 70-year-old grandfather had died at home, the Shiyan People’s Procuratorate, the office that carries out investigations and prosecutions, said on Weibo, a Chinese social media site, on Tuesday. It identified the grandfather by his surname, Tan.
The boy had not left home because his grandfather had told him not to go out, to avoid exposure to the outbreak, the Weibo post said. It cited a hospital worker who said the man appeared to have been dead for two or three days when he was found. It also said Mr. Tan was not infected by the coronavirus and that the time of his death was being investigated.
The reports unleashed public anger online over whether public officials had, in imposing severe lockdown and containment measures in the province, allowed a vulnerable family to fall through the cracks.
Some social media users also accused the boy’s parents of negligence, even though as one Chinese news outlet reported, Mr. Tan’s adult son was in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi and unable to return home. Others worried that the boy had been traumatized.
A volunteer, identified only as Mrs. Li, has since taken in the boy, reported Hongxing News, a Chinese news outlet. Guo Ruibing, a local party official in the city’s Zhangwan district, told the outlet it was not possible that the man had been dead for three days before he was found, because the district was implementing “wartime controls” with community workers checking people’s temperatures and conditions at their homes every day.
The Zhangwan government could not be immediately reached for comment.
Nurses in Wuhan make a bold appeal for international help.
Nurses in Wuhan, China, psychologically stressed and physically exhausted, appealed to medical workers around the world to come to the heart of the outbreak and help them treat the thousands of infected people there.
The unusually public appeal for help, made in an open letter published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet, underlines how severely overwhelmed and understaffed the hospitals in the city continue to be despite the thousands of volunteers the government has deployed.
The government has sought to promote its efforts in the party’s propaganda outlets, hailing the medical workers as patriots while downplaying the shortages in hospitals beds, protective gear and medical supplies that have been made worse by a monthlong lockdown. The residents and medical workers in Wuhan have borne the brunt of the deaths from the disease, Covid-19.
“We are asking nurses and medical staff from countries around the world to come to China now, to help us in this battle,” read the letter signed by nurses working in isolation units at a hospital in Wuhan. “In addition to the physical exhaustion, we are also suffering psychologically. While we are professional nurses, we are also human.”
Severe shortages of protective equipment and a lack of health care professionals in Wuhan were exacerbating the tough conditions inside isolation wards, the letter said. Wearing thick layers of protective gear for long stretches means having to “speak very loudly” to communicate, while some nurses developed pressure ulcers on their foreheads and ears from the special masks and goggles and blisters around their mouths.
The front line workers are at particular risk for infection. More than 3,000 medical workers across China have been infected with the virus, according to the Chinese government.
Xi Jinping, the leader of China, has praised hospital workers in Hubei Province as heroes, but some of them have had to beg friends for protective gear or purchase it with their own money. The government has cracked down on medical workers who have used social media to seek equipment donations.
And offers of assistance doctors and nurses from around the world as well from the World Health Organization were ignored in the early weeks of the outbreak.
“Like everyone else, we feel helplessness, anxiety, and fear,” the letter said.
Japan insists that plans for the Summer Olympics are unchanged.
The Japanese government on Wednesday sought to play down concerns that the global spread of the coronavirus would affect the Tokyo Olympics, saying it had no plans to cancel or make other big changes to the Games.
At a regular news briefing, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said that preparations for the Games, which are scheduled to open in late July, were proceeding “as planned.”
Mr. Suga offered his assurances a day after The Associated Press published an interview with Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee, who said that the Games might have to be canceled if they could not be held safely.
Mr. Pound said that a decision would need to be made no later than May. “In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?’” he said.
In response to a question about the remarks, Mr. Suga said that they were “not the official view of the I.O.C.”
The virus has already affected preparations for the Olympics, particularly in China, where athletes have had to change their training regimens and forgo qualifying events because of restrictions on their travel.
Hoping to curb a gradual increase in reported coronavirus cases in Japan, the authorities on Tuesday called for the cancellation of public gatherings such as sporting events and concerts in the coming weeks.
Japan’s professional soccer and rugby leagues have announced that they will cancel or delay events, while some professional baseball games have been closed to spectators.
Hong Kong proposes cash handouts to help with economic pain of outbreak and protests.
Hong Kong will give each adult permanent resident close to $1,300 this year, part of an effort to help a faltering economy and ease some of the financial pain caused by months of protests and the coronavirus outbreak.
Hong Kong entered a recession in the second half of last year, with the economy contracting 1.2 percent, the first annual decline since 2009.
Several regional economies have also faced difficulties, with Singapore and South Korea recording weak growth in the last quarter of 2019 and Japan’s output shrinking by an annualized 6.3 percent for October through December.
Paul Chan, Hong Kong’s financial secretary, said the city would implement $15 billion in new spending and tax breaks as part of a new budget put forward Wednesday. The cash disbursement will go to about seven million people and cost around $9 billion, Mr. Chan said.
Mr. Chan said the handout involved “a huge sum of public money,” adding that it was an exceptional measure that he did not believe would impose a long-term burden on the city’s finances, with about $140 billion in fiscal reserves.
Under the proposed budget, Hong Kong will also cut salaries taxes for about two million workers by up to $2,500 per person, a measure that would cut revenues by about $2.4 billion, he said.
The government had previously announced a $3.8 billion fund to help fight the new coronavirus and aid small businesses harmed by the outbreak. Hong Kong has 85 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, and two deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Despite such stimulus measures, Mr. Chan offered a sobering picture for Hong Kong’s economy in the coming year, with estimates ranging from a 1.5 percent contraction to 0.5 percent growth.
Another cruise ship is denied at multiple ports of call.
A cruise ship in the Caribbean has been turned away from two ports over fears of the coronavirus. The pattern of denial is similar to the Westerdam, a ship that made visits at five ports before being allowed to dock in Cambodia this month.
The ship, the MSC Meraviglia, has more than 4,500 passengers and 1,600 crew members. It was not allowed to dock in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands after it was discovered a crew member onboard was unwell.
After the ship’s command reported one case of influenza onboard, Jamaican authorities, concerned that the man might have the coronavirus, said no one could disembark. The ship left Ocho Rios for its next port of call, Georgetown, Cayman Islands, after waiting to be cleared for nearly four hours.
The ship was expected to dock in Georgetown on Wednesday morning, but the Ministry of Health said on Tuesday night that it could not do so.
In China, pregnant women face a sudden shortage of health care.
Pregnant women in China are facing an emergency they could hardly have imagined a few months ago: The doctors and hospitals they were relying on are suddenly unavailable.
The government has taken nurses and doctors away from their usual jobs and assigned them to work on the coronavirus outbreak. That has left many small community hospitals, where prenatal care and childbirth are often handled, so understaffed that they have closed temporarily.
Many pregnant women have been unable to find even basic care, while reports of infected mothers giving birth have heightened fears of passing on the virus to newborns — though there is no evidence of such transmission.
In Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, pregnant women have struggled to figure out where they can give birth. Not only are hospitals closed, so is the public transit system, and residents are not allowed to leave the city.
“I worry every day about whether my child will die in my belly,” said Jane Huang. “I worry if there is an early delivery, it will not be able to survive.”
Women who have given birth in China since the epidemic began say they have received minimal care in short-handed hospitals. Regular checkups for babies have been postponed, and mothers have been unable to get their infants vaccinated.
Experts say the situation is undercutting the major political effort in recent years to prod Chinese women to have more children amid historically low birthrates and a looming demographic crisis.
Reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Choe Sang-Hun, Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, Elaine Yu, Ben Dooley and Alexandra Stevenson.