GENEVA, (AFP): Stock markets collapsed on Friday as world health officials warned that countries were failing to take the coronavirus crisis seriously enough.
A rash of European countries as well as Cameroon and Togo confirmed their first cases of the virus while the Netherlands announced its first death.
In the United States, medical workers warned over a “disturbing” lack of hospital preparedness, echoing World Health Organisation concerns over the lack of commitment from countries to tackle the virus threat.
The Chinese government, meanwhile, said it may soon lift the quarantine imposed on Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, which has been under lockdown for more than a month.
“The day everyone is waiting for will not be too far away,” Ding Xiangyang, deputy secretary-general of China’s State Council, told journalists.
Coronavirus has now killed more than 3,300 people and infected more than 100,000 in about 90 nations since the outbreak first emerged in China in December.
– Markets spiral –
The global markets continued to struggle against the uncertainty created by the outbreak of the virus.
On Friday, the European markets followed the downward trend of Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong in a fierce global markets selloff that began about two weeks ago.
In oil markets, Brent North Sea crude dived to $47.02 per barrel, the lowest levels since July 2017 while the WTI tumbled to the lowest since late 2018.
“Over the past month, forecasters have slashed their oil price estimates quicker than you can say ‘pass the hand sanitiser’,” said PVM analyst Stephen Brennock.
– Rising numbers –
Slovakia, Serbia, the Vatican, Cameroon and Togo all reported their first cases while Netherlands recorded its first death.
“An 86-year-old man with COVID-19 who was admitted to the Ikazia hospital in Rotterdam has died,” the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said, referring to the disease caused by the virus.
Iran reported 17 new deaths taking the toll in the country to 124 while Egypt detected 12 new cases among workers aboard a Nile cruise boat heading from Aswan to Luxor.
The epidemic has wreaked havoc on international business, tourism, sports events and schools, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide.
Even religion is affected: The Vatican said Pope Francis may change his schedule, Bethlehem was placed under lockdown, and Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site in Mecca to sterilise it.
In India the world’s biggest film industry called off its equivalent of the Oscars that had been set for the end of the month, with organisers citing the “sensitivity” of the health crisis.
The prestigious Milan-San Remo cycling race fell victim to the rising numbers in Italy which has already postponed two Six Nations rugby matches which were due to be played this month in Rome.
China — where the virus emerged late last year — still accounts for the majority of cases and deaths, but authorities intimated that the quarantine of Hubei may be coming to an end.
Some 56 million people in Hubei have been effectively quarantined since late January, to stop the virus from spreading. But new cases in Hubei and Wuhan have been on a downward trend for several weeks.
Some regions are preparing to reopen schools from next week, after more than a month of closures across the country.
Fresh infections increased across China for a second consecutive day on Friday, with 143 new patients, and the number of imported cases from abroad to 36.
Its death toll rose to 3,042, with over 80,500 infections.
South Korea has the biggest number of cases outside China, with over 6,500 infections and 42 deaths, prompting the country to extend school breaks by three weeks.
– WHO warning –
The World Health Organization warned Thursday that a “long list” of countries were not showing the political commitment needed to “match the level of the threat we all face”.
“This is not a drill,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, calling for “aggressive preparedness”.
“This is not a time to give up. This is not a time for excuses,” he said.
“This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”
In the United States, the largest nursing union said a survey of thousands of nurses at hospitals showed “truly disturbing” results.
Nurses are working without necessary personal protective equipment and lack education and training for handling the disease, said National Nurses United director Bonnie Castillo.
The US Congress passed an emergency $8.3 billion spending bill to combat the coronavirus Thursday as cases surged in the country’s northwest and deaths reached 12.
More than 180 people are infected in the US. But President Donald Trump has downplayed the risk, saying the WHO’s report of a 3.4 percent mortality rate was “false”.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, estimated the death rate at “somewhere between 0.1 percent and one percent”.
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