© Reuters. Medical workers are getting ready while ambulances are parked to transport a confirmed coronavirus patient to Daegu
By Jane Chung and Emily Chow
SEOUL / SHANGHAI (Reuters) – There was growing concern on Monday that the outbreak of the coronavirus in China could become a pandemic with disastrous and fatal consequences for countries around the world after infections in South Korea, Italy and Iran increased sharply ,
An increase in infections in South Korea and Italy, as well as an alarming rise in the death toll in Iran over the weekend, triggered a sharp drop in Asian equity markets and Wall Street stock futures on Monday as investors fled to safe haven like gold.
Stocks and oil prices fell as gold rose to a seven-year high. The Korean won fell 0.8% to its lowest level since August. (MKTS / GLOB)
"The weekend's news flow has changed the game somewhat, with a much more focus on the risk of an outbreak outside of China," said Chris Weston, research director at Broker Pepperstone.
French health minister Olivier Veran said he would soon be talking to his European colleagues about how to best deal with a possible epidemic in Europe after a third person died in Italy from the flu-like virus and the number of cases there more than had risen 150 out of only three before Friday.
"There is no epidemic in France tonight, but in Italy there is a problematic situation on the doorstep that we are watching with great attention," Veran said at a press conference.
Italy has cordoned off the worst affected cities and banned public gatherings in much of the north, including the Venice Carnival interruption, where there were two cases to try to contain the biggest outbreak in Europe.
"I was surprised by this explosion of cases," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told RAI. Warning numbers would likely increase in the coming days. "We will do everything we can to stem the contagion."
Almost a dozen cities in Lombardy and Veneto, with a total population of around 50,000, were effectively quarantined when the authorities tried to find out how the outbreak started.
"If we can't find & # 39; patient zero & # 39; it means that the virus is even more pervasive than we thought," said Luca Zaia, regional governor of the wealthy Veneto region.
Austria stopped the train traffic across the Alps from Italy for about four hours after two travelers showed symptoms of fever. The train, which carried around 300 passengers from Venice (Italy) to Munich (Germany), was allowed to continue its journey after the two had tested negative for the new corona virus.
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said a coronavirus task force would meet on Monday to discuss whether border controls with Italy should be introduced.
European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Paolo Gentiloni said Brussels had confidence in the measures taken by the Italian authorities and there was "no need to panic".
In South Korea, the authorities reported another 161 new cases on Monday, a total of 763. A seventh death was also reported.
Seoul raised its infectious disease alert to its highest level on Sunday after Daegu City and Cheongdo County – where infections had risen sharply last week – were designated "Special Care Zones" on Friday.
The escalation of the alert level enables the government to send additional resources to Daegu and Cheongdo County, prevent violent public activities, and order the temporary closure of schools, the health ministry said.
"The government will do everything it can to minimize the economic impact and ensure that the recovery is not interrupted as we prepare for the worst-case scenario," said South Korean Vice Minister of Finance Kim Yong-beom on Monday.
"We are closely monitoring (forex) markets in particular and will take the necessary steps if speculative trading leads to herd-like behavior," he added.
Iran, which announced its first two cases on Wednesday, said it confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths, with most infections occurring in the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan have imposed travel and immigration restrictions on the Islamic Republic.
A graphic for tracking the new corona virus can be found at https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html
"HEAVY AND COMPLEX"
In China, the virus killed 2,442 people, reported 76,936 cases, and slowed the world's second largest economy.
While more factories, companies and construction sites are slowly reopening after a long New Year, the limited data so far indicate that production is still far below the level of the previous year.
According to a Reuters balance sheet, the outbreak has spread to 28 other countries and territories, with around two dozen fatalities.
China reported 648 new infections on Sunday, but only 18 were outside the epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei Province, the lowest number outside the province since authorities began publishing data a month ago.
"At present, the epidemic situation is still serious and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical phase," said President Xi Jinping.
Xi stressed the importance of fighting the epidemic in Beijing, the capital of Beijing, which recently placed people arriving from other parts of China in quarantine for 14 days.
He said that this would have a relatively large but short-term economic impact and that Beijing would step up policy adjustments to cushion the blow.
The G20's top global economies on Saturday called for a coordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak, which the IMF predicted would reduce China's growth to 5.6% this year and save 0.1 percentage points of global growth would.
In Japan, where the government is increasingly concerned about whether it is doing enough to combat the virus, the authorities confirmed 773 cases by early Sunday evening.
Most of them came from a cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo, the Diamond Princess. A third passenger, a Japanese in the eighties, died on Sunday.
The UK authorities said four people evacuated from the ship tested positive for the virus after flying to the UK.