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Coronavirus: WHO upgrades virus spread risk to 'very high'

February 28, 2020

Stock markets around the world have plunged amid mounting concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 virus on business. The virus has continued to spread, with 27 new cases in Germany. DW has the latest here.

A worker wearing a protective suit takes body temperature measurement of a man inside the Shanghai Stock Exchange building
Image: Reuters/A. Song
  • European and US stock markets slumped again on Friday, putting them on track for their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Germany logged 27 new cases of the COVID-19 virus overnight, with several eastern European countries reporting their first cases.
  • A foreign national in Nigeria became the first known case in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • China reported 327 new cases on Thursday, the lowest daily figure in a month.
  • The latest global figures are at 83,700 people infected, with more than 2,800 dead.

All updates in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC/GMT).

As Friday comes to a close, figures indicate over 83,000 people have been infected, with some 2,800 deaths in China and 57 deaths in 46 other countries. With that comes the end of today's updates. Be sure to check dw.com for coronavirus news, as well as the other goings on from across the globe.

22:58 The phrase "38% of Americans" has been trending on Twitter following a survey showing that more than a third of beer drinkers "would not buy Corona under any circumstances now," according to public relations firm 5W. Nevertheless, Constellation Brands, the company which owns the Mexican-heritage beer label, has said that sales have been unaffected since the outbreak.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this terrible virus and we hope efforts to more fully contain it gain traction soon," Bill Newlands, chief executive of Constellation, said. "We've seen no impact to our people, facilities or operations and our business continues to perform very well."

22:38 Cruise ships have been described as "floating Petri dishes," ripe for the spreading of viruses such as COVID-19. But while the images have been alarming, many in the European industry remain calm and are playing down the risks. DW's Jo Harper reports on why the cruise liner industry is not panicking over the outbreak.

22:10 US President Donald Trump said he hopes the Federal Reserve will soon take measures to combat the effects of the outbreak.

After Wall Street had its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, Trump was asked whether the Fed should do take action. "I hope they get involved soon," he said, before adding a sideswipe in the Federal Reserve's direction: "I'm not a big fan of the Fed. I think they make a lot of mistakes."

Trump's remarks came hours after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said he is prepared to enforce steps to help the US economy.

21:50 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un chaired a politburo meeting of the country's ruling Workers' Party and discussed counter-coronavirus measures, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported citing North Korea's Central News Agency. "In case the infectious disease spreads beyond control and finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences," Kim was quoted as saying.

21:43 Epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann from Berlin's Humboldt University tells DW the coronavirus is "likely to become a global-scale event" and "occupy us for the next months."

20:59 Saudi Arabia barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering two of Islam's holiest cities amid fears over the COVID-19 virus. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry announced in a statement "the temporary suspension of entry of the Council's citizens to the cities of Mecca and Medina." It did not confirm whether this suspension extended to Saudi citizens.

20:57 German airline Lufthansa announced that it expects to reduce its flights by up to 25% in the coming weeks due to the "accelerated spread of the coronavirus" the company said.

20:40 German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for caution and vigilance, but said that not all events in Germany be cancelled. Speaking on Friday evening at her annual reception in Stralsund, northern Germany, Merkel also said, "I am not shaking hands with anyone tonight."

Read moreCoronavirus: Consequences for tourism in Germany

20:35 Germany's crisis committee enacted new measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak that include the expansion of cross-border travel guidelines and the cancellation of major international events. It increased regulations for air and sea passengers, requiring passengers from South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran to report their health status before entry. Previously only passengers from China had been required to do so. Information about disease prevention will also be distributed to all passengers crossing a border with Germany, including to those traveling by train and bus.

 20:11 US confirms plans to use law to boost production of coronavirus protective gear, according to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

19:52 A British cruise ship turned away by the Dominican Republic after passengers suffered flu-like symptoms was awaiting approval to dock on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, officials said. It was one of at least three ships barred from a Caribbean port this week. 

19:45 US health officials have reported the first drug shortage tied to the outbreak that is disrupting production in China. They declined to identify the manufacturer of the product, fearing that people might hoard the drug.

19:27 Germany still has more than 1,000 people in quarantine and nearly 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Those in quarantine are in North Rhine-Westphalia's Heinsberg district, near the Dutch border where there are 35 cases of the virus. The measures were enforced after an infected couple had participated in carnival celebrations in mid-February.

19:16 French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on her Twitter feed that several confirmed coronavirus infections had been reported on the military base of Creil, north of Paris.

19:12 The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Switzerland has risen to 15, and more than 100 people are in quarantine, according to government minister Alain Berset.

19:10  A Google employee who was in the company's Zurich office has tested positive for the coronavirus. Google is preventing employees from traveling to Iran as well as to Italy's Lombardy and Veneto regions. From March 2, Google will ban employees from traveling to South Korea and Japan, according to the Business Insider. "The Zurich office, like all other offices, remains open," a Google spokesperson said.

18:50 France says it now has 57 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The French health minister recommends that people avoid shaking hands for now.

18:37 Organizers of next week's Berlin travel fair (ITB) has now confirmed that the world's biggest tourism trade show has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

18:19 A spokesperson from Iran's Health Ministry rejected an earlier BBC Persian report claiming at least 210 deaths from the coronavirus in the country. 

17:55 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York that "This not a time for panic — it is time to be prepared — fully prepared." He added, "Now is the time for all governments to step up and do everything possible to contain the disease ... We know containment is possible, but the window of opportunity is narrowing."

Read more: Coronavirus: How Africa has been preparing for outbreak

17:46 At least 210 people have died from the coronavirus in multiple cities in Iran, BBC Persian reported, citing hospital sources.

17:43 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the coronavirus is now the government's top priority.

17:30 Iceland has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. According to a statement from the country's Civil Protection and Emergency Management, an Icelandic citizen in his forties has been isolated at a hospital in the capital Reykjavik after he tested positive. The man had recently traveled to Iceland from northern Italy, but was traveling outside of the designated risk zone. Iceland has declared an "alert phase," which is characterized by a hazard assessment that indicates increased threat. 

17:00 Italy announces three more deaths from the coronavirus in its Lombardy region, bringing the national death toll to at least 21. Italy has 888 patients infected with the COVID-19 virus, of whom 46 have recovered.

16:44 Kuwait Airways says it will operate a flight to Bangkok to evacuate Kuwaiti citizens there, according to Kuwait's Ministry of Information. 

16:40 Italy's Lombardy region will ask the government to maintain preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus for a further week.

Read more: How long is the coronavirus incubation period?

16:35 EU health ministers will meet on March 6 to discuss the COVID-19 virus outbreak, an EU spokesperson has announced. 

16:16 White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says the number of additional coronavirus cases in the US is likely to increase but that does not mean they will "skyrocket" in North America.


16:11 Michael Ryan, head of the WHO's health emergencies program, said it was "unhelpful" to ask if the outbreak could now be considered a pandemic. If the WHO called it a pandemic "we're essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to that virus. The data does not show that," he said. "If we don't take action... that may be a future that we have to experience," he said, adding that "a lot of the future of this epidemic is in the hands of ourselves."

15:54 K-pop megastars BTS canceled four of their Seoul concerts in April as South Korean COVID-19 virus cases spiked to almost 600 — a higher rise than the daily increase seen in China. 

15:31 Speaking in a press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom says the continued increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and the number of affected countries over the last days is "clearly of concern," adding that the risk of spread and impact of the virus is now upgraded to "very high" at a "global level." He said more than 20 vaccines are in development globally and several therapeutics are in clinical trials. "We expect the first results in a few weeks."

15:23 Following a second testing, Mexico has just confirmed that the latest test confirmed the first cases of coronavirus infection in two men who had recently traveled to Italy, according to Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell. Speaking at a regular news conference, the minister said one patient was a 35-year-old man in Mexico city and the other a 41-year-old in the northern state of Sinaloa.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell
Mexican Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell spoke to the media, confirming the first cases of coronavirus in the countryImage: Imago Images/Agencia EFE/S. Gutierrez

15:07 Germany's Bild newspaper cited the Health Ministry as saying that its new coronavirus criteria, according to which organisers must assess the safety of their events, meant Berlin's ITB international travel fair should be cancelled. An official at the Health Ministry confirmed the report. A spokesperson for the fair said no decision had yet been made. The fair is due to start next week.

15:00 Danish cycling champion Michael Morkov waits confined in a Berlin hotel room for coronavirus test results after travelling to the track cycling world championships from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday, before the UAE tour was cancelled due to two Italian participants showing symptoms of the virus. All other riders and staff have since been confined to the tour hotel.

14:40 Wall Street stocks tumbled in opening trading Friday, suffering another steep decline as concerns of an economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 virus takes a toll on global markets. US indexes fell 1.8% following steep losses in Europe and Asia.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 800 points, or 3.0 %, at 24,986.27. 

14:18 The deputy mayor of Moscow says the city is deporting 88 foreign nationals for violating coronavirus quarantine measures, Russian state news agency RIA reported.

14:00 Berlin's Robert Koch Institute says tracing the contacts of patients infected with the coronavirus is the most important public health measure. The institute, one of Germany's leading medical research centers, does not recommend sealing off cities or wearing face masks in public.

"You can't separate the city from the outside for weeks or months ... You create a lot more problems than you solve with such a measure," the institute's Vice President Lars Schaade said.

13:50 Mexico has detected the first cases of coronavirus infection in two men who had recently traveled to Italy. The country's assistant health secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said one of the patients is in Mexico City and the other in the northern state of Sinaloa. While a second test is still pending on that case, he said, `"We are treating this as confirmed.'' Neither is seriously ill.

13:30 A British man who contracted the virus on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan has died, news agency Kyodo reported. The man is the sixth Diamond Princess passenger to die as well as the first foreign passenger to pass away. The virus-stricken cruise ship was quarantined for weeks in Japan's Yokohama port.

13:00 Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno says the new coronavirus has hit the eurozone economy, although it's only been a "temporary shock" so far. "We stand ready to act if it becomes a less temporary event," he said.

12:40 German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a special meeting with Health Minister Jens Spahn and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to discuss Germany's response to the COVID-19 virus. Further details of the meeting are due to be released later on Friday, although they reportedly discussed criteria for calling off large events as well as preparing Germany's health care system for a potential rise in cases. The German government has been accused by opposition parties of not responding quickly enough to the 

11:45 European airlines have been hit by the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with several curbing flights due to falling demand in virus-hit areas. Brussels Airlines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, is cutting its flights to northern Italy by 30% over the next two weeks. British budget airline easyJet said it is also canceling flights, particularly those to the virus hot spots in Italy.

11:05 Around 1,000 people in western Germany are currently under quarantine. The district of Heinsberg in the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia told scores of people to stay at home after a person infected with the virus took part in Carnival celebrations that ended this week. Schools and kindergartens have also been shut. 

10:45 The death toll in Iran rose to 34, health officials announced on Friday. The country now has 388 confirmed cases, pushing the number of cases in the Middle East to over 500.

10:25 Martin Stürmer, a virologist based in Frankfurt, told DW that the spread of infections is likely due to people not knowing that they're carrying the virus.

"People can transmit the virus without having symptoms or even [having] mild symptoms," Stürmer said. "Many people are not aware that they are infected."

10:00 The number of cases in the UK rose to 19 after Wales reported its first case and two new cases were identified in England.

09:45 Switzerland has banned all large public events in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. All events with more than 1,000 participants have been halted until mid-March, the government said. The ban includes the Geneva International Motor Show, one of the world's largest automotive fairs, that was slated to start this upcoming Wednesday. Switzerland currently has 15 cases with 100 people in quarantine.

09:30 The number of cases in Germany jumped up overnight, health officials said on Friday. Some 27 new cases were registered overnight, raising the total of cases that Germany has seen since the beginning of the year to 53, officials at the Robert Koch Institute told a press conference. The number of cases includes people who have recovered from the virus. The outbreaks are currently centered in three "clusters" in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden Württemberg. One patient is currently seriously ill with the virus.

08:35 The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) thanked the German government for contributing €50 million to combat the coronavirus. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that "proactive solidarity is vital" in both efforts to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19.

08:15 European stock markets plunged on Friday, extending losses from the day prior amid concerns about the coronavirus. Germany's DAX 30 index in Frankfurt dropped by 3.6%, while the Paris CAC 40 dropped 3.1%. London's FTSE 100 index also slumped 2.8%.

08:05 South Korea reported even more new cases on Friday, raising the total infections in the country to 2,337. The outbreak is currently the largest one outside of China.

08:00 New Zealand also confirmed its first COVID-19 case after a person who recently arrived from Iran tested positive for the virus. Authorities said that the situation is being well managed and that the "chances of community outbreak remain low."

07:15 Belarus reported its first coronavirus case on Friday. The patient is a student from Iran who arrived in the eastern European country last week, the Health Ministry said. The student is in "satisfactory" condition, officials said, noting that other people who came in contact with them have been placed in quarantine.

A person wears a face mask outside the Minsk Clinical Hospital of Infectious Diseases in Belarus
Belarus is treated an Iranian student infected with virus and has put others who came into contact with them under quarantineImage: picture-alliance/dpa/N. Fedosenko

06:43 Tokyo's Nikkei share index has tumbled by more than 3.6% at the close of trade, extending losses for a fifth day. Stocks in Sydney, Seoul and Bangkok have all fallen by more than 3%, while Jakarta dropped by more than 4%.

06:00 Hong Kong authorities say they have quarantined the dog of one COVID-19 patient after traces of the virus were found in nasal and oral samples. The result was described as a "weak positive," with officials saying there was no evidence that pets can become infected.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it would conduct further tests, and that the result could have been caused by environmental contamination.

05:35 Lithuania has reported its first coronavirus infection. The government in Vilnius said the case was in a woman who returned this week from a visit to the northern Italian city of Verona.

04:40 Tokyo Disneyland will be closed starting Saturday following a government recommendation that all large gatherings be curtailed as a precautionary measure. Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea will closed until March 15.

"We plan to reopen on March 16, but we will an announcement after keeping close contact with relevant institutions," park operator Oriental Land said on its website.

Disney's Shanghai and Hong Kong theme parks have closed for over a month now. 

04:00 After the sweeping sell-off in US and European markets on Thursday, here's a round-up of the Asian stock markets, which continued the free fall on Friday: (all indices are currently trading and liable to change)

  • Nikkei (Japan) -4%
  • Hang Seng (Hong Kong) -2.5% 
  • Shanghai Composite (China) -3.37% 
  • Sensex (India) -2.80% 

03:29 The first coronavirus case in Nigeria is that of an Italian citizen who arrived in the country from Milan earlier this week.

"The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos," Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement.

Read more: Zimbabwe businesses count cost of the impact of coronavirus

03:15 New Zealand places travel restrictions on people coming from Iran. "This means people will not be able to travel from Iran to New Zealand and anyone who has been in Iran in the last 14 days will need to self-isolate," said David Clark, the country's health minister.

02:35 US health employees who received repatriated Americans exposed to the coronavirus were sent without wearing protective gear or receiving training, a whistleblower complaint said, according to US media.

02:25 Nigeria on Friday said it has confirmed a coronavirus case, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. The country's health ministry said the case was confirmed on Thursday in Lagos state. 

02:05 A cruise ship with 6,000 passengers on board, turned away by two nations; Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, has been allowed to dock in Mexico. The passengers will be allowed to disembark as long as "health standards" are met, said Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

01:56 Schools in Japan could be closed longer than one or two weeks, said Katsunobu Kato, the country's health minister. "There could be a chance" schools could be shut for longer, he said.  

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday called for the entire school system to close from Monday till spring break in late March. 

Read more: Investors flee from controversial pandemic bonds with coronavirus set to trigger payout

01:52 Hong Kong and Shanghai markets fall at the first few minutes of trade on Friday. The Hang Seng (Hong Kong) dropped 1.98%, while the Shanghai Composite index shed 2.23%

01:40 Health workers in South Korea have began checks on more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive group often accused of being a cult. The Christian group has been linked with around half of the country's cases.

These checks are expected to further increase the number of known infections in South Korea. 

A sign installed at a church located in western Seoul on Feb. 23, 2020, bans the entry of members of the Shincheonji church
This sign at a Seoul church is telling members of the Shincheonji Church that they are not permitted entryImage: picture-alliance/Yonhap

01:10 South Korea has confirmed 256 new cases on Friday taking the total number of infections to 2,022. Most of the cases have been reported in Daegu. No new deaths were reported. 

00:31 Asian stock markets dropped at the opening bell on Friday, after fierce declines in the US and Europe on Thursday. The sweeping sell-off has investors worried about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Here are the major indices that recorded a slump:

  • Nikkei (Japan) -3.08% (shortly after opening)
  • Topix (Japan) -2.98% (shortly after opening)
  • Dow Jones (US) -4.42% (all other markets currently closed)
  • S&P 500 (US) -4.42%
  • Nasdaq (US) -4.61%
  • FTSE 100 (UK) -3.49%
  • DAX (Germany) -3.19%
  • CAC 40 (France) -3.32%
  • Oil -4.90%

Read more: Coronavirus: Are less-developed EU countries more susceptible?

00:26 China confirmed 327 new coronavirus case on Thursday, down from 433 cases a day earlier. This is the lowest daily figure since January 23. The latest figure takes the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 78,824. The number of dead in China also increased by 44 on Thursday, and now stands at 2,788.

00:15 Hamburg confirmed its first coronavirus case on Thursday. The patient, a staffer at the University Medical Center, or UKE, in the city's Eppendorf district, worked in the pediatric ward. The man came to work on Monday and Tuesday. He called in sick the following day and came in on Thursday as a patient.

A signpost stands in front of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. For the first time, an infection with the novel corona virus has been detected in Hamburg.
The patient in Hamburg works in the pediatric ward of the University Medical CenterImage: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Wendt

"The patient is currently in a stable condition in isolation at home," the University Medical Center or UKE said in a statement.

The children and patients he came in contact with will remain in isolation for 14 days, as will his colleagues. "There have been no further admissions at the affected station," the hospital said.

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mvb, rs, adi, jsi/rc (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)