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Coronavirus

US and Europe outpace Asia in spread of coronavirus

While cases in China slow, Western outbreaks grow by multiples of 5 and 10

A woman walks in Turin, Italy, on March 5 after the government urged people not to stand closer than one meter apart.   © Reuters

TOKYO/GENEVA -- The number of Americans and Europeans infected by the new coronavirus surged over the past week, lifting the global total over 100,000 people, with no clear sign of an end despite hopes that warmer weather will slow the outbreak.

About 102,000 people had been infected worldwide as of Saturday morning Japan time, according to America's Johns Hopkins University, with the total increasing by the hour.

Italy, the hardest-hit country outside Asia or the Middle East, saw coronavirus cases grow fivefold since Feb. 29 to more than 4,600, with 197 dead. A further rise to over 5,800 was reported by Italian authorities on Saturday local time.

The U.S. also saw a fivefold increase over the same period, but some European countries experienced bigger jumps. Infections grew more than 11-fold in France and Germany, over 12-fold in Spain and by a multiple of 21.4 times in Switzerland, data collected by Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization showed.

In the U.S., at least 21 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, had been confirmed on the Grand Princess cruise ship holding off California. The situation has raised concerns about a repeat of the cluster that sickened hundreds on the Diamond Princess while that vessel was quarantined at Yokohama.

A helicopter delivers coronavirus test kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco on March 5 in this image from the California National Guard.   © Reuters

Meanwhile, health officials in Macao, the casino hub on mainland China's south coast, reported Friday that its last COVID-19 patient had fully recovered and the city had not reported a new case in more than a month. The city had just 10 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Though the increase in new patients in China appears to have slowed, the sharp rise in cases elsewhere has continued to propel the scale of the epidemic far beyond that of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2002-03, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2012.

This development is "deeply concerning," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Friday.

Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, told reporters in Geneva on Friday that there was no evidence to support the view that the virus will stop spreading in the summer. The world should assume that its ability to spread will remain, Ryan said.

China, where the outbreak originated, has recorded about 80% of the cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Tedros expressed particular concern for developing countries that lack the medical infrastructure to cope with outbreaks of COVID-19. The WHO has urged countries to boost their health care capacity as well as their border controls.

Official travel restrictions have mounted, as have cancellations of trips for business or pleasure. The precipitous slowdown in movement of people and goods threatens to damage the global economy.

The International Monetary Fund warns that world economic growth in 2020 could ebb to a pace not seen since 2009, the year immediately following the global economic crisis.

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