Coronavirus Live Updates: Europe Is Threatened as Illness Spreads From Italy

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.

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.

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.

  • Updated Feb. 25, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      The World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world is not ready for a major outbreak.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

The U.S. military in Japan sent out a notice Wednesday telling all personnel there to avoid nonessential travel to South Korea.

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

Reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Choe Sang-Hun, Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, Elaine Yu, Ben Dooley and Alexandra Stevenson.

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