Switzerland and Croatia have announced their first cases of the coronavirus, and Austria its first two cases, all of which allegedly involve people who had been to Italy. Spain has also confirmed its first mainland case of Covid-19 in Catalonia, bringing its total number of confirmed cases up to 10, with two recoveries, as of Wednesday morning (26 February). This follows a Tenerife hotel being put under quarantine after a visiting Italian doctor tested positive for the virus.
The four most recent deaths in Italy (bringing the total up to 11) are all reported to be elderly people from the Lombardy and Veneto regions, and the total number of cases in the country now exceeds 320, which are also spread in Tuscany, Le Marche, Emilia Romagna, Alto Adige, Piedmont, Liguria, Lazio and Sicily, far south of the capital in Rome. The northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto remain under lockdown, with schools, universities and public venues closed.
In response to the hysteria that is beginning to spread in response to the new case numbers, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has urged for calm and less sensationalist reporting from media outlets. “Panic is a completely unjustified reaction that compromises the overall efficiency of the system and triggers regrettable speculations on the prices of some products,” Conte told the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Tuesday, commenting on growing concerns over food supplies running out. “The food supply will be ensured with appropriate measures especially in the ‘cluster’ areas. Calm is brought back through punctual and transparent communication.”
Nevertheless, many are also speculating on the damaging effect that the virus will have on tourism and economic activity for the country. Carlo Capuano of global credit rating agency DBRS Morningstar commented: “Italian authorities’ attempt to strike a balance between restrictive measures to contain the spread of the virus and attempts to limit the negative impact on the economy will be challenging. A mismanagement of the situation might negatively affect government stability. Italy’s fiscal space is limited, but DBRS Morningstar expects some potential fiscal measures to sustain growth. These, however, might be less effective should the economic impact be more on the supply side rather than on the domestic demand side.”
Still, much of the panic seems to be arising within Italy itself, as neighbouring countries have decided that, for now, closing borders would be ‘disproportionate’ – health ministers from France, Germany, Italy and the EU Commission committed to keeping frontiers open at a meeting on Tuesday. "We're talking about a virus that doesn't respect borders," said Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
The wider world
Over in the US, the city of San Francisco in California has declared a state of emergency despite there being no reported cases there. The Mayor’s decision appears to follow the CDC’s assertion that it is not a matter of ‘if’ the virus spreads in the US, but ‘when’: “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” said Nancy Messonier, Director of the CDC's National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Globally, there have now been over 81,000 cases of the virus, 2,766 deaths and over 30,200 recoveries – the number of currently infected patients is 48,135. The vast majority of cases remain in China, where over 78,000 have now been reported (with 2,715 deaths and 29,978 recoveries). South Korea is the worst affected outside of China, with a total of 1,261 cases now reported and 12 deaths.
There has also been an additional death in Japan – an elderly person in Hakodate, Hokkaido; the first recorded case in Brazil; and, following an additional three cases in Thailand, Health Minister Anutin has advised citizens to avoid travelling abroad if possible: “For the airlines, please reduce promotions," he said. "Even though tickets are cheap, it could be your last holiday.”
With new cases being reported almost every hour, it’s hard to know the exact numbers. In a press release on Monday, the World Health Organization urged countries ‘to do everything you would do in preparing for a pandemic’, adding, however, that it was still too early at this stage to declare it a pandemic. WHO referenced dwindling case numbers in China, which went against the logic of a pandemic.
“So, let’s focus on what we can do, what we need to do which is prepare. When we mean prepare, we mean to detect cases, prepare to treat cases, prepare to follow contacts, prepare to put in place adequate containment measures. It’s not a hundred different measures, there are probably five or six key interventions,” WHO said.
The organisation was also quick to point out that it’s not just the less economically developed countries that are at risk: “Many of our health systems, even in the most developed countries, in fact very often in the most developed countries, are operating at nearly 100-per-cent efficiency or impact all the time. You don’t see many extra beds in hospitals in Europe, so the problem for the European countries and other countries in the developed world is that the health systems may come under a lot of extra pressure.”
As WHO reasoned, we ‘cannot shut down the world’. “Everyone can close their borders and everyone can say there’s no movement, but that’s not going to work because disease can spread between nations. What we need to focus on is risk management,” the organisation said. “Reducing the risks of disease importation, reducing the risk of disease transmission, increasing the survival of patients who get sick and understand that this virus may come and it may cause outbreaks and epidemics in any number of countries, but they can be managed, they can be dealt with. I think we have to be very careful in suggesting that we can absolutely stop this virus from spreading from one country to the next. I don’t think that’s possible."