Switzerland has today banned all events involving more than 1,000 people in a drastic bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Swiss government announced the emergency measure today and said it will last until at least March 15.
Elsewhere, cases have surged again in South Korea today where 571 new infections brought the total from 1,766 to 2,337.
Most of the new cases were recorded in the city of Daegu, where the outbreak has been traced to a secretive religious sect.
It came as China saw another sharp fall in its rate of coronavirus infections today with the lowest number of new cases since January.
The mainland reported only 327 new cases and 44 deaths in the 24 hours to Friday morning, according to the country’s National Health Commission.
China’s update brings the country’s total number of cases to 78,824 and deaths to 2,788.
The global count of those sickened by the virus is nearing 84,000, with the virus now spreading more rapidly outside China.
Nigeria has confirmed the first case outside sub-Saharan Africa, saying the patient was an Italian citizen who had recently returned from Milan.
Health workers in protective suits, masks and goggles spray disinfectant on a street in Seoul yesterday with South Korea experiencing another surge in cases
Workers in protective overalls enter a supermarket in Beijing yesterday, with new coronavirus infections now tapering off in mainland China
Nigeria confirms first-case in sub-Saharan Africa
Coronavirus reached sub-Saharan Africa today as Nigeria confirmed its first case.
The first patient is an Italian citizen who had returned from Milan earlier this week, with northern Italy at the centre of Europe’s worst outbreak so far.
The case in Nigeria’s economic hub, Lagos, has stirred memories of the Ebola outbreak which hit the megacity six years ago.
Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos confirmed a case of new coronavirus on Friday, stirring memories of the fears sparked six years ago when West Africa’s Ebola epidemic hit the chaotic megacity of 20 million.
‘The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms,’ health minister Osagie Ehanire said.
That the patient was being treated at a hospital for infectious diseases in Lagos, the minister said.
The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, has puzzled health specialists.
Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases on the continent – in Egypt and Algeria.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with some 190million people.
In 2014, the first case of Ebola confirmed in the city from the outbreak that swept West Africa set off alarm bells across the globe and unleashed a wave of panic among residents.
In the end Lagos escaped relatively lightly and only seven people died from a total of 19 infected, a number dwarfed by the overall toll of 11,000 deaths across the region from 2013 to 2016.
The Lagos state health authorities reacted quickly, medical experts from international organisations in the country deployed from the capital Abuja and the disease was confined to the upscale neighbourhoods in the city.
This time around officials insist that the country has made its preparations for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
Experts say the oil-rich economic powerhouse is better prepared to deal with any disease epidemics than some of its poorer neighbours in the region.
But the government is criticised for not spending enough on health and crumbling infrastructure, corruption and the departure of doctors to better paying jobs abroad have eaten away at the sector.
Friday’s figure in mainland China was the lowest rise in new cases since January 24, when 259 new infections were reported.
The rate of deaths in China has also slowed, with yesterday’s fatality toll of 29 the lowest in nearly a month.
But infections in other countries are gathering pace, with the World Health Organization warning that the coronavirus epidemic was at a ‘decisive point’.
More than 3,600 infections have been reported outside mainland China, with 70 deaths.
Even China is now worried about importing cases and has ordered people arriving in Beijing from affected countries to go into a 14-day self-quarantine.
The coronavirus has appeared in nine new countries in recent days – Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Norway, Northern Macedonia, Pakistan and Romania – bringing the number of countries affected to more than 45.
In South Korea, the hardest-hit country outside China, another 256 cases have been reported, raising its total to 2,022.
Most of the new cases were in Daegu – the city at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak – and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, officials say, with the death toll remaining at 13.
South Korea’s total is expected to increase further after checks began on more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult, linked to around half of the nation’s cases.
A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu – the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5million – before being diagnosed.
The coronavirus crisis has spooked South Korea’s financial markets, led Hyundai Motor to shut down one of its plants and prompted boy band BTS to cancel its April concert.
Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin said the city’s total could reach as many as 3,000 in the coming days as Shincheonji members test results appear, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
‘The next one week will be the tipping point,’ he said.
Daegu’s streets have been largely deserted for days with many stores and restaurants temporarily closing, but face masks were becoming more widely available on Friday,.
Authorities have urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.
But they say they are not considering putting the city in lockdown as China did for Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.
Meanwhie, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe called for schools across the country to close for weeks, a decision that impacted 12.8million students.
‘The most important thing is to prevent infections’, said Norinobu Sawada, vice principal of Koizumi primary school, ‘so there aren’t many other options’.
There are also growing fears over the Tokyo Olympics, with thousands of athletes and spectators due to descend on Japan for the Games which start in July.
Organisers said today that they would announce next week whether the 121-day torch relay would be scaled back.
A woman wears a mask and goggles as she cycles on a street in Beijing earlier this week. China today recorded its lowest number of new infections since January
Commuters wearing protective face masks walk out of the Bangkok Transport System in Thailand yesterday, where dozens of people hav ebeen infected
In Iran, the front line of infections in the Middle East, officials loosened rules barring the import of many foreign-made items to allow in sanitisers, face masks and other necessities.
They also removed overhead handles on Tehran’s subways to eliminate another source of germs.
Peru put specialists on round-the-clock shifts at its biggest airport, Argentina took the temperature of some new arrivals and El Salvador added bans for travellers from Italy and South Korea.
The Dominican Republic turned back a cruise ship carrying 1,500 people because eight of those aboard showed potential symptoms of the Covid-19 virus.
And in Africa, South Africa’s president ordered the evacuation of citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus outbreak began.
An Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on February 25 from Milan has also been confirmed as the first positive case in sub-Saharan Africa.
The holy city of Mecca, which Muslims are called to visit at least once in their lives, and the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina were cut off to potentially millions of pilgrims, with Saudi Arabia making the extraordinary decision to stop the spread of the virus.
A Chinese security guard wears a protective mask as he checks the temperature of people entering a residential building in Beijing earlier this week
People wearing face masks walk in front of giant Olympic rings at a waterfront area in Tokyo, amid growing doubts over the Games
With the monarchy offering no firm date for the lifting of the restrictions, it posed the possibility of affecting those planning to make their hajj, a ritual beginning at the end of July this year.
‘We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm’, the country said in announcing the decision.
Meanwhile virus fears have prompted Asian stock markets to fall after Wall Street endured its biggest one-day drop in nine years.
Tokyo’s benchmark fell by an unusually wide margin of 3.4 per cent and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul all dropped by more than two per cent.
On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index is down 12 per cent from its all-time high a week ago.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday that the world was at a ‘decisive point’ and countries could still contain the epidemic if they ‘act aggressively now’.
‘No country should assume it won’t get cases; that could be a fatal mistake, quite literally. This virus does not respect borders,’ Tedros said in Geneva.
The WHO has voiced particular concern about Africa’s preparedness, warning at the weekend that the continent’s health care systems were ill-equipped to respond.