China reported a sharp decrease in new deaths and cases of the coronavirus on Saturday but a doubling of infections in South Korea and 10 new cases in Iran added to unease about its rapid spread and global reach.

Mainland China had 397 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier, but only 31 cases were outside of the virus epicenter of Hubei province, the lowest number since the National Health Commission started compiling nationwide data a month ago.

But infection numbers continued to rise elsewhere, with outbreaks worsening in South Korea, Italy and Lebanon and Iran, prompting a warning from the World Health Organisation that the window of opportunity to contain the international spread was closing..

South Korea saw another spike in infections, with 229 new confirmed cases, taking its tally to 433. Iran, which had no reported cases earlier this week, saw 10 new cases, one of which had died, taking the number to 28 infections and five deaths. Concerns about the virus weighed on US stocks on Friday, driven by an earlier spike in cases in China and data showing stalling US business activity in February. It has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing 13 people.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Twitter expressed concern on Saturday about cases with no clear link to China and called on all countries to invest urgently in preparedness. He made an appeal for $675 million to support the most vulnerable countries.

On Friday, he said now was the time to act decisively.

“We still have a chance to contain it,” he said. “If we don’t, if we squander the opportunity, then there will be a serious problem on our hands.” An outbreak in northern Italy worsened with its first two deaths, among 17 confirmed cases including its first known instance of local transmission.

Japan confirmed 14 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, among those a teacher who had shown symptoms while working at her school.

Japan is facing growing questions about whether it is doing enough to contain its spread, and concern about whether it could scupper this year’s Tokyo Olympics. Organisers on Saturday postponed the start of training for volunteers as a precaution.

The Bank of Japan’s governor on Saturday shrugged off talk that the widening epidemic is triggering an outflow of funds from Asia.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China rose to 76,288, with the death toll at 2,345 as of the end of Friday. Hubei reported 106 new deaths, of which 90 were in Wuhan.

But new, albeit isolated findings about the coronavirus could complicate efforts to thwart it, including the Hubei government’s announcement on Saturday that an elderly man took 27 days to show symptoms after infection, almost twice the presumed 14-day incubation period.

That follows Chinese scientists reporting that a woman from Wuhan had traveled 400 miles (675 km) and infected five relatives without showing signs of infection, offering new evidence of asymptomatical spreading.

State television on Saturday showed the arrival in Wuhan of the “blue whale”, the first of seven river cruise ships it is bringing in to house medical workers, tens of thousands of which have been sent to Hubei to contain the virus.

Online media and Weibo users posted footage and images on Saturday of some malls reopening, including in the cities of Wuxi, Hangzhou and in Gansu province, with shoppers queuing in near-empty streets outside for mandatory temperature checks.

Some analysts believe China’s economy could contract in the first quarter from the previous 3 months due to the combined supply and demand shocks caused by the epidemic and strict government containment measures. On an annual basis, some warn growth could fall by as much as half from 6% in the fourth quarter. reuters


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