ROME/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A second European hotel was in lockdown on Wednesday as authorities around the world battled to prevent the spread of coronavirus, although a senior U.S. health official said a pandemic was inevitable and urged Americans to prepare.
Austria sealed off the 108-room Grand Hotel Europa in the Alpine tourist hub of Innsbruck after an Italian receptionist tested positive for the flu-like virus that originated in China and has spread to about 30 countries.
Italy has become a frontline in the global outbreak of the virus, with 280 cases and 10 deaths, most in Lombardy and nearby Veneto. The receptionist and her partner, who also tested positive, visited their home in Lombardy last week.
A similar story was unfolding at the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in Tenerife on the Canary Islands, which was locked down on Tuesday after an Italian doctor and his wife were found to be infected. Spain also reported its first three cases of the disease on the mainland.
The United States told Americans on Tuesday to begin preparing for coronavirus to spread within the country as outbreaks in Iran, South Korea and Italy escalated and fears that the epidemic would hurt global growth rattled markets.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) principal deputy director, said that while the immediate risk in the United States was low, the current global situation suggested a pandemic was likely.
“It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when and how many people will be infected,” Schuchat said.
Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the most outside China. Iran’s deputy health minister and a member of parliament were among those infected.
There have been about three dozen deaths outside China, including 11 in Italy, according to a Reuters tally.
The virus is believed to have originated from a wildlife market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 people, the vast majority in China.
The death toll in mainland China rose by 52 on Wednesday, with another 406 confirmed cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the outbreak peaked in China around Feb. 2, after Beijing isolated central Hubei province and imposed other extreme containment measures that have paralyzed the world’s second-biggest economy.
Beijing has urged “low-risk” regions to get back to work as quickly as possible. Several provinces and regions have lowered their emergency levels this week, including Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Sichuan on Wednesday.
Worsening outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea – where the number of confirmed infections rose by 169 to 1,146 on Wednesday – are raising the risk of pandemic and unsettling global markets.
China quarantined 94 passengers on a flight from the South Korean capital Seoul to Nanjing on Tuesday after three showed signs of fever, the state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The Dow and S&P 500 tumbled 3% on Tuesday in their fourth straight day of losses as investors struggled to gauge the virus’ economic impact.
Forecasts from economists collected by Reuters on Feb. 19-25 showed that Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand are all expected to put in their worst performance in years in the first quarter.
A similar Reuters poll published a little over a week ago, found the Chinese economy will grow at its slowest pace in the current quarter since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.
Italians or people who had recently visited the country tested positive in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Romania, Spain and Switzerland on Tuesday.
Several European Union countries advised their citizens not to visit northern Italy, although the outbreak was already spreading to other regions in the south.
Health ministers from neighboring countries met in the Italian capital to discuss the crisis and dismissed some calls to close the border.
“We agreed to keep borders open, closing borders would be a disproportionate and ineffective measure at this time,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
Several countries suspended flights to Iran and some of its neighbors closed their borders, while Oman’s Khasab port halted imports and exports with the Islamic republic.
“It is an uninvited and inauspicious visitor. God willing we will get through … this virus,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait Bahrain and Oman this week reported their first cases, all in people who had been to Iran. Bahrain said it now has 24 confirmed cases.
In South Korea, which has the most coronavirus cases outside China with 977 infections and 10 deaths, authorities were testing all the estimated 215,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
The country’s outbreak is believed to have begun in the city of Daegu with a 61-year-old woman who is a member of its congregation.
There was misery too for 34 South Korean newlyweds whose honeymoons on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius became a holiday from hell after they were put in isolation.
Airlines began restricting flights to Italy, a planned shoot in the country for Tom Cruise’s seventh “Mission: Impossible” movie was postponed, Milan cathedral was closed and the Venice carnival canceled.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus here)
Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Washington, Diane Bartz in Chicago, Gavin Jones, Francesca Piscioneri and Crispian Balmer in Rome, Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun and Lusha Zhang in Beijing; Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul; Paresi Hafezi in Dubai; Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Shields in Geneva; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Michael Perry