Coronavirus verges on 100,000 cases globally; infections in Canada also rising

The latest:

  • WHO chief concerned by uptick in cases in low-income countries with weaker health systems.
  • Iran limiting travel between cities as COVID-19 cases hit 4,747, with 124 deaths. 
  • Finance minister talks about economic impact of coronavirus, says government making a plan to support Canadians who are quarantined because of COVID-19.
  • B.C. reports COVID-19 case with no known travel history to affected area. Read more about how Canada will cope with community transmission of COVID-19.

The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus charged toward 100,000 Friday, with the global scare upending routines, threatening livelihoods and prompting quarantines.

Asian shares were down following a rough day on Wall Street and the consequences of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, were becoming clear to people around the world. Halted travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months to come.

“Who is going to feed their families?” asked Elias al-Arja, the head of a hotel owners’ union in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tourists have been banned and the storied Church of the Nativity shuttered.

The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential of “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.

Signs of the virus’s shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.

China reported 143 new cases Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago. Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to 1. The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe — where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases — and beyond.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that in the past 24 hours, 2,736 cases of COVID-19 were reported in 47 countries and territories, bringing the total worldwide to 98,023 with 3,380 deaths. The WHO figures lag behind a project by John Hopkins University, which attempts to track cases in near real time. That database has put the number of cases worldwide over 100,000 already.

Tedros said earlier this week that “shortages” of protective equipment like masks and gloves “are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients.”

Tedros said Friday the WHO is concerned about an uptick in the number of lower-income countries with weaker health systems reporting an increase of cases.

Health officials around the world have urged people not to hoard supplies, and noted that masks are most effective for people who are sick, not those who are trying to avoid contracting the disease.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

A new case of the coronavirus in B.C. is not linked to travel and believed to be the first from within the community. 2:09

As of Friday morning, there were 49 cases reported in Canada, with most in Ontario and B.C., including the most recent probable case in Quebec.

Health officials in B.C. are investigating after a woman who had no travel history to areas dealing with a coronavirus outbreak and hadn’t been in contact with COVID-19 patients tested positive for the illness. The woman in her 50s visited her doctor with flu-like symptoms, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday.

Henry told reporters Thursday that the woman with no travel history to an affected area is one of eight new cases in the province

Quebec, which had two confirmed cases as of Thursday, reported a third presumptive case on Friday in a person who had travelled to France.

Ontario health officials on Friday reported a new case, a person who had travelled to Las Vegas. The latest Ontario case brings the total reported cases in the province to 24.

Alberta announced its first presumptive case on Thursday.Meanwhile, in eastern Ontario a group of Canadians who spent weeks under quarantine — first on a cruise ship in Japan and then at a conference centre in Cornwall, Ont. — are expected to be allowed out of isolation Friday.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Friday that Canada expects COVID-19 to impact commodity prices — like oil and metals — as well as travel and tourism. Morneau said while the full impact on the Canadian economy can’t be determined at this stage in the outbreak, there are already signs of issues in the global supply chain and changes in consumer sentiment.

“The impact on Canada will ultimately depend on the depth and length of the virus,” he said. “These things cannot be known until they are known, so our government is planning for every contingency.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision not to close Canada’s borders to foreign nationals coming from countries where the outbreak is spreading. Several countries have banned travellers from those countries, but Trudeau said Thursday Canada is taking its lead from the WHO, which has advised against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries dealing with COVID-19 cases.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been continually assessing risk as the global outbreak develops, says the risk in Canada from COVID-19 is low.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

In the United States, more than 230 cases were stirring anxiety around the country, nowhere more than its northwestern corner in Washington state, where officials are so concerned about having space to care for the sick they were expected to close a $4 million US deal Friday to take over a roadside motel.

To the south, on the Pacific coast, California National Guard paratroopers were hoisted down from a military helicopter to deliver virus test kits to the bow of the Grand Princess cruise ship. The vessel, with 3,500 aboard, was ordered to stay at sea after a traveller from its previous voyage died of the coronavirus and at least four others were infected.

The cruise line said samples were collected from 45 passengers and crew members and results were expected later Friday.The Grand Princess is operated by the same line as the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined at a Japanese port last month. More than 700 people on board were infected.

In New York, the mayor implored the federal government to send more test kits to his state, which saw its caseload double overnight to 22, all of them in or near the city. 

WATCH: Test kits for COVID-19 dropped to cruise ship 

As many as 100 guests and crew members aboard Grand Princess will be tested because of cases linked to another voyage. 0:47

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed a more than $8-billion US spending bill meant to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak. The legislation will provide federal public health agencies money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments, and help state and local governments prepare for and respond to the threat.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak had been hindered by what he called imperfect data from China, adding that it had been frustrating getting information from the ruling Communist Party.

“The information that we got at the front end of this thing wasn’t perfect and has led us now to a place where much of the challenge we face today has put us behind the curve,” Pompeo told CNBC in an interview. Both China and Iran have faced questions about both transparency and the manner in which cases were counted and reported.

Here’s what’s happening in South Korea and Japan

The second hardest-hit country, South Korea, was also registering a notable decline in new infections and the World Health Organization’s leader said he was seeing “encouraging signs” there.

South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday. The country has touted its “remarkable diagnostic and treatment abilities” but its vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said: “It’s not easy to make predictions about how the situation … would play out.”

People wearing face masks amid concern about the coronavirus take a stroll as cherry blossoms bloom on Friday in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. (Athit Perawongmentha/Reuters)

Japan was also dealing with some diplomatic tensions over its decisions around the outbreak, as Seoul expressed “extreme regret” that Japan will quarantine all visitors from South Korea due to its surging viral outbreak. 

Japan’s 14-day quarantines also will apply to visitors from China. 

Here’s what’s happening in Italy and Europe

Cases were increasing in Germany and France, but Italy remained the centre of Europe’s outbreak, particularly in its north. The country has had 148 fatalities, making it the deadliest site for the virus outside China.

The Italian government restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect older people who have been more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. But with schools closed nationwide, many grandparents were called to duty as last-minute babysitters anyway.

Even Vatican City was hit by the virus, with the tiny city-state confirming its first case Friday but not saying who was infected. The Vatican has insisted Pope Francis, who has been sick, only has a cold.

The Vatican said it is working with Italian authorities to keep the coronavirus from spreading, with a suspension of Pope Francis’s weekly audiences seen as likely.

A man is seen wearing a protective face mask at Waterloo station in London on Friday. The U.K. reported its first death of a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. (Henry Nicolls/Reuters)

A patient with an underlying health condition in southeast England died Thursday after testing positive for the new coronavirus, becoming the first person in the U.K. to succumb to the disease.

The person, who was not identified, is among the 115 people in the U.K. who have tested positive for the new virus.

The Dutch public health institute has reported the Netherlands’ first coronavirus death, while Serbia and Slovakia confirmed their first cases of the virus. An 86-year-old man died in a hospital in Rotterdam. It is not known where he contracted the virus. The Netherlands currently has 82 known infections.

Spain, meanwhile, has confirmed its fourth death, an elderly woman in Madrid. Health authorities have identified 16 cases in the centre for elderly she attended and four other cases in the town. There are 261 confirmed cases in Spain.

Here’s what’s happening in Iran and the Middle East

Iran said Friday the novel coronavirus has killed 124 people amid 4,747 confirmed cases in the Islamic Republic as authorities warned they may use “force” to limit travel between cities.

Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour offered the figures at a televised news conference. He did not elaborate on the threat to use force, though he acknowledged the virus now was in all of Iran’s 31 provinces.

The threat may be to stop people from using the closed schools and universities as an excuse to go to the Caspian Sea and other Iranian vacation spots. Iran on Thursday announced it would put checkpoints in place to limit travel between major cities, hoping to stem the spread of the virus.

Iran cancelled Friday prayers across its major cities. Elsewhere in the region, Iraq cancelled Friday prayers in Karbala, where a weekly sermon is delivered on behalf of the country’s top Shia cleric. Authorities in the United Arab Emirates meanwhile limited prayers to two verses of the Quran so they lasted no longer than 10 minutes, over concerns about the virus.

When asked about the situation in Iran, which has seen a rapid uptick in cases, WHO’s emergency programs director Dr. Mike Ryan said that WHO commends “a move toward more aggressive, targeted surveillance.” He noted that countries dealing with an epidemic often see an uptick of cases once they make aggressive moves to find them.

Ryan said he hopes the moves in Iran will lead to control measures to help push COVID-19 back in that country.

More than 4,990 cases of the virus, which causes the illness COVID-19, have been confirmed across the Middle East. Iran and Italy have the world’s highest death tolls outside of China.

Here’s a look at some other COVID-19 developments around the world

Health officials with the WHO have been warning for weeks of the risks in countries where health-care systems don’t have the resources or capacity to deal with an outbreak.

Here are some of the latest developments in regions that have not yet seen large numbers of cases but remain an area of concern, including Africa and South America:

  • Twelve new cases of coronavirus registered on a Nile cruise ship are all asymptomatic, the health ministry and World Health Organization said in a joint statement on Friday. The individuals are all Egyptian workers on the ship, which is heading to the southern city of Luxor, the statement said.

  • Cameroon’s health ministry on Friday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, a 58-year-old French citizen who arrived in the capital Yaounde on Feb. 24. It said the man has been quarantined in the city’s Central Hospital.

  • The West African country of Togo reported its first case on Friday. The patient is a 42-year-old female resident of the capital Lome who had visited Benin, Germany, France and Turkey in late 
    February and early March. Togo is the fifth sub-Saharan country to report coronavirus after Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Cameroon.

  • Peru recorded its first confirmed case of coronavirus, President Martin Vizcarra said in a televised statement on Friday, as the disease begins to spread around South America. The patient is a 25-year-old man who had travelled to Spain, France and the Czech Republic, Vizcarra added. South American neighbours Argentina and Chile also announced their first confirmed cases this week, while a number of cases have been confirmed in Brazil.

  • Australia, which has previously said it is planning for a major outbreak, announced a $1 billion AUS (around $890 million Cdn) plan to tackle COVID-19. Some businesses in Australia were closed Friday amid concern over suspected cases.

  • Singapore, praised by the WHO for its efforts to prevent the virus from spreading, warned on Friday that deaths would become “inevitable” as a global pandemic emerges. More than two months since its first case, Singapore has kept infections to just over 100 people with no deaths.

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