Coronavirus Live Updates: Potential New Paths of Transmission Put Global Authorities on Edge


The fight to contain the coronavirus entered a new and potentially alarming phase on Thursday as public health officials in the United States and Germany grappled with patients who exhibited no known connection to others with the illness.

That raised the possibility that the virus could have begun to spread locally by an as yet unknown means, or that infected people had spread the disease to others sequentially, making it virtually impossible for the authorities to find and isolate the origin.

Either way, the two cases, thousands of miles apart, underscored how quickly the virus was making its way around the globe after first emerging in China late last year, and how difficult it was proving to contain.

As the number of cases in Japan has steadily risen, the government took the extreme step of closing all schools through March in an effort to combat the outbreak.

President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the American effort to combat the virus, while maps tracking new cases continued to light up in countries around the globe.

During the news conference, the Trump administration continued to send mixed messages about the virus, with public health officials warning of potentially “major disruptions,” while President Trump blamed Democrats and cable news channels for overstating the threat.

Financial markets, whose performance Mr. Trump has used as a benchmark for his presidency, continued their week long declines in Asia and Europe, which often prefigure results in the United States.

Conditions continued to ease in China, however, where the authorities were lifting citywide lockdowns that had ensnared more than 700 million people. In South Korea, however, a major outbreak tied to a megachurch in South Korea ballooned on Thursday to 1,766 documented infections, an increase of 505 from the previous day. Plans were underway to test all 200,000 members of an obscure religious group among whom the outbreak started.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all of Japan’s schools to close for a month to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. The country is the second, after China, to shutter schools nationwide over the epidemic.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike 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 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.
    • 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 nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      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 was not ready for a major outbreak.

Speaking before a coronavirus task force meeting on Thursday, Mr. Abe said he was “putting a priority on children’s health and safety” and trying to pre-empt a widespread outbreak that could result “from gatherings of many children and teachers for a long time on a daily basis.”

The number of coronavirus cases has steadily risen in Japan, reaching 186, including four deaths. There have also been more than 700 cases and four deaths from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

Mr. Abe said schools should remain closed through spring break. The Japanese school year ends in March, and the new year usually starts at the beginning of April.

He specifically requested that all elementary, middle and high schools close. He did not mention universities or day-care centers.

The move toward a countrywide shutdown follows a decision on Wednesday by the Education Board of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, to close more than 1,600 schools in the prefecture until at least March 4. Hokkaido has had 54 confirmed cases and two deaths from the virus.

Hours before Mr. Abe spoke, the mayor of Osaka said he had requested that schools in the city, Japan’s third largest, be closed until March 13.

The fast-growing coronavirus outbreak touched South Korea’s military alliance with the United States on Thursday, as the two countries announced that they would postpone their joint spring military exercise.

The decision came as South Korea reported 505 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total number to 1,766, the largest outbreak outside of China. Most of the patients were from Daegu, a city in southeastern South Korea, and in nearby towns.

On Wednesday, the United States military reported the first case of a soldier being infected. The soldier was stationed at a base near Daegu.

Both South Korea and the United States said their annual spring combined training, originally scheduled to take place next month, would be postponed “until further notice.”

South Korea has placed itself on the highest possible alert to deal with the outbreak, suspending nonessential military training and placing more than 9,500 troops under quarantine. It has also barred most of its enlisted soldiers from taking leave.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, unwilling to wait for global health authorities to declare the coronavirus a pandemic, said on Thursday that the country is enacting an emergency response plan as if it were one.

“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us,” he said. “And as a result, as a government we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”

The steps outlined on Thursday include extending a ban through March 7 on foreigners who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days. There have been 22 confirmed cases of the virus in Australia, with no deaths.

Mr. Morrison said Australians should continue to attend mass gatherings, play on the street and eat at restaurants.

“You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly, Australia has gotten ahead of it at this point of time,” he said. “But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase.”

Stocks fell in Europe and Asia on Thursday amid further signs of the coronavirus’s spread around the world and after the United States tried to reassure the public that it was ready to deal with the problem.

Stocks in Japan fell more than 2 percent, leading a broad drop in Asia, while markets in Europe opened sharply lower. Futures markets predicted Wall Street would open lower too, continuing a weeklong slump.

Most of the region fell by less. The Kospi index in South Korea dropped 1 percent, while stocks in Taiwan lost 1.2 percent. Shares in Hong Kong were up 0.3 percent near the end of the trading day.

Shares in China bucked the general trend, with Shanghai rising 0.1 percent. Regulators and government-controlled investors often step in to help the country’s stock market in troubled times.

Oil prices also fell, while the price of gold rose, signaling continued nervousness among global investors.

The outbreak has taken a toll on multinational companies. On Thursday, Anheuser-Busch InBev joined the chorus, as the brewer forecast a steep drop in quarterly profit.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain, the CAC 40 in France and the DAX in Germany opened about 2 percent lower.

A person in California who was not exposed to anyone known to be infected with the coronavirus, and who had not traveled to countries where it is circulating, has tested positive for the infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday night. It may be the first instance of community transmission in the United States.

“The case was detected through the U.S. public health system and picked up by astute clinicians,” a C.D.C. statement said.

It brought the number of cases in the United States to 60, including the 45 cases among Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — and the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was overwhelmed by the virus after it docked in Japan.

The new case, in which the source of infection is unknown, is cause for concern, experts said.

“That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there, and we have already started some low-grade transmission,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

Under China’s latest national treatment plan, patients must test negative twice for the virus and have a chest scan before they can be discharged from the hospital. Several medical experts have said that patients who have already been infected with the virus cannot be infected again, as they will have developed immunity.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday temporarily barred Muslim pilgrims from entering the country to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as the kingdom tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a stark illustration of the fear the epidemic has stirred.

The Saudi royal family derives much of its stature in the Islamic world from its status as guardians of the holy sites, and it very rarely closes them off. The Saudi response contrasts with that of Iran, which has kept its pilgrimage sites open, despite a significant coronavirus outbreak there, and evidence that people who had visited Iran had spread the virus to other countries.

Each year, millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, or Umrah, which can take place at any time of year; the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to make at least once, takes place in a specific part of the lunar year, which this year falls in midsummer.

Many Muslims also visit the mosque in Medina that was established by the Prophet Muhammad.

The government is “suspending entry into the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily,” the government-run Saudi Press Agency said.

With just under five months before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo on July 24, organizers in Japan and at the International Olympic Committee say they are confident the Games will go on.

At a news briefing on Wednesday, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said that preparations for the Games were proceeding “as planned,” adding that the Olympic torch would begin its journey to Japan in March as scheduled.

The I.O.C. has also declined to entertain the possibility that the Games might not take place as planned.

But sporting events in Japan and elsewhere are already being canceled, as governments try to discourage large gatherings in major cities. In preparing for the Olympics, Japan had focused on the prevention of measles and rubella, sexually transmitted diseases and food poisoning.

A new illness, like the coronavirus, was not central to its calculations.

“I’ve never seen an Olympic organizing committee asked, ‘Are you prepared for a global pandemic?’” said Terrence Burns, a veteran Olympics consultant.

Reporting and research was contributed by Marc Santora, Russell Goldman, Carlos Tejada, Choe Sang-Hun, Zoe Mou, Daniel Victor, Roni Caryn Rabin, Denise Grady, David Yaffe-Bellany, Ed Shanahan, Andrew Keh and Ben Dooley.



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