Hopes that the epidemic that started in China late last year would be over in months, and that economic activity would quickly return to normal, have been shattered.
World shares were on course for their largest weekly fall since the 2008 financial crisis, bringing the global wipeout to $5 trillion as supply chains were disrupted, travel plans postponed and major events canceled.
The WHO said it was raising its assessment of the global risk to ‘very high’ from ‘high’, which its head of emergencies Dr Mike Ryan said was intended to put national authorities on full alert.
“I think this is a reality check for every government on the planet - wake up, get ready, this virus may be on its way and you need to be ready,” Ryan said.
The latest WHO figures indicate over 82,000 people have been infected, with over 2,700 deaths in China and 57 deaths in 46 other countries.
Mexico, Nigeria, New Zealand, Lithuania, Belarus and Azerbaijan reported their first cases, all with travel history connected to epicenters in Italy and Iran. Mexico is the second Latin American country to register the virus, after Brazil.
The Nigerian case, an Italian man, is the first in sub-Saharan Africa. The man traveled through the capital and other parts of Nigeria for almost two days before he was isolated and quarantined, authorities said, underlining the difficulties already overstretched health services will have in containing the disease.
Potentially making it even harder to eradicate, a growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive again, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital.
In addition to stockpiling medical supplies, some governments ordered schools shut and canceled big gatherings to try to halt the flu-like disease. Switzerland canceled next week’s Geneva international car show, one of the industry’s most important gatherings.
The New York Stock Exchange said it had “robust contingency plans” to allow it to continue operating if its floor had to close.
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