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Americans told to prepare for epidemic

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The United States has told Americans to begin preparing for coronavirus to spread within the country as outbreaks in Iran, South Korea and Italy escalated and fears that the epidemic would hurt global growth rattled markets.

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Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the most outside China, while Italy reported its 11th death.

The virus has jumped to about 30 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths outside China, according to a Reuters tally.

Worsening infections in Iran, Italy and South Korea are of particular concern, world health officials said. South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures to help curb the virus’ global spread.

Believed to have originated from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed close to 2700 in China.

But the World Health Organisation said the outbreak there has been declining since February 2.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, an official at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters that data on the virus’ spread over the past week had heightened the agency’s expectations of transmission within the United States.

“Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she cautioned.

While saying the immediate risk from the coronavirus in the United States remained low, another top CDC official, Doctor Anne Schuchat, said it was no longer a question of if the virus would become a global pandemic. “It’s a question of when and how many people will be infected.”

The Dow and S&P 500 tumbled 3 per cent on Tuesday in their fourth straight day of losses as investors struggled to gauge the virus’ economic impact.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait Bahrain and Oman this week reported their first cases, all in people who had been to Iran. Bahrain said it now has 24 confirmed cases.

A top WHO expert urged countries to step up preparations.

“Think the virus is going to show up tomorrow,” Bruce Aylward, head of the joint WHO-Chinese mission on the outbreak, told reporters on his return to Geneva.

“If you don’t think that way, you’re not going to be ready.”

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday asked a Senate subcommittee to approve $US2.5 billion ($A3.8 billion) in funding to expand surveillance systems for the virus, help development of vaccines and boost stockpiles of protective equipment.

In South Korea, which has the most coronavirus cases outside China with 977 infections and 10 deaths, authorities were testing all the estimated 215,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The country’s outbreak is believed to have begun in the city of Daegu with a 61-year-old woman who is a member of its congregation.

In Europe, Italy is the front line with more than 280 cases, as the outbreak is spreading from its origins in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

Airlines began restricting flights to Italy, prices of protective gear skyrocketed, a planned shoot in the country for Tom Cruise’s seventh Mission: Impossible movie was postponed, Milan cathedral was closed and the Venice carnival cancelled.

Switzerland, Austria, and Romania reported their first cases, all in people who had been to Italy. Algeria and Croatia also recorded their first infections.

Spain reported its first case on the mainland.

China reported a rise in new cases in Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicentre. But excluding those, it had just nine new infections on Monday, its fewest since January 20.

-AAP

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