South Korea aims to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the center of a surge in coronavirus cases, as countries stepped up efforts to stop a pandemic of the virus that emerged in China and is now spreading in Europe and the Middle East.
More than 80,000 people have been infected in China since the outbreak began, apparently in an illegal wildlife market in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
China’s death toll was 2,663 by the end of Monday, up 71 from the previous day. But the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining since.
However, fast-spreading outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, and first cases in several Middle East countries, have fed worries of a pandemic, or worldwide spread of the virus.
“We are close to a pandemic, but there is still hope the epidemics in Iran, Italy, South Korea, etc. can be controlled,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.
South Korea has the most virus cases outside China and reported its tenth death and 144 new cases, for a total of 977. President Moon Jae-in said the situation was “very grave”.
In Europe, Italy has become a new front line, with 220 cases reported on Monday, up from just three on Friday. The death toll in Italy is seven.
Global stock markets stabilized on Tuesday after a wave of early selling petered out and Wall Street futures managed a solid bounce after a sharp selloff the previous day on fears about the spreading coronavirus.
“If travel restrictions and supply chain disruptions spread, the impact on global growth could be more widespread and longer-lasting,” said Jonas Goltermann, senior economist at research consultancy Capital Economics in London.