Coronavirus outbreak is No.1 threat: WHO

The coronavirus outbreak in China may be over by April, the country’s senior medical adviser says, but deaths have surpassed 1000 and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a global threat potentially worse than terrorism.

The world must “wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away.

China’s foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.


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“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” Zhong, an epidemiologist who played a role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, told Reuters.

World stocks, which had seen rounds of sell-offs over the coronarvirus’ impact on China’s economy and its ripple effects, surged to record highs on Zhong’s comments. The Dow industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all hit new peaks.

The WHO said on Tuesday that 1017 people had died in China, where there were 42,708 cases.

Statistics from China indicate about two per cent of people infected with the new virus have died, and many had pre-existing medical conditions or were elderly. But the spread of the virus, which can lead to pneumonia, has already caused widespread disruption.

The impact of travel curbs, lockdowns and production suspensions is being felt increasingly on China’s economy.

Hubei, where the flu-like virus emerged in China from a wildlife market in the provincial capital of Wuhan, remains in virtual lockdown, its stations and airports shut and roads blocked.

With public anger rising, Hubei’s government dismissed the provincial health commission’s Communist Party boss, Zhang Jin, and director Liu Yingzi, state media said.

Washington, whose travel restrictions have offended Beijing, authorised the voluntary departure of US government employees and family members from Chinese-ruled Hong Kong “out of an abundance of caution,” the State Department said.

Off Japan’s port of Yokohama, the Diamond Princess cruise ship with 3700 passengers and crew remained quarantined, with the number of confirmed cases at 135 – the largest single cluster of cases outside China.

Thailand said it had barred passengers from getting off another ship, Holland America Line’s MS Westerdam, though no confirmed infections have been found on board.

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