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U.S. has its 1st death from COVID-19, officials say

A person has died in Washington state of COVID-19, state health officials said Saturday, marking the first such reported death in the United States.

State officials issued a terse news release announcing the death, gave no details and scheduled a news conference. A spokesperson for EvergreenHealth Medical Center, Kayse Dahl, said the person died in the facility, but gave no details.

State and King County health officials said “new people (have been) identified with the infection, one of whom died.” They did not say how many new cases there are.

Amy Reynolds of the Washington state health department said in a brief telephone interview: “We are dealing with an emergency evolving situation.”

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States is considered small. Worldwide, the number of people sickened by the virus is about 85,000. There have been more than 2,900 deaths, most of them in China.

This is a breaking update. A previous version of the story can be seen below.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday announced a 270 billion yen ($3.3 billion Cdn) emergency economic package to help fight the coronavirus as he sought the public’s support for his government’s fight against the outbreak.

Abe told reporters Japan is at critical juncture to determine whether the country can keep the outbreak under control ahead of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Abe, whose announcement this past week of a plan to close all schools for more than a month through the end of the Japanese academic year sparked public criticism, said the emergency package includes financial support for parents and their employers affected by the school closures.

The economic package also includes measures to amplify medical preparedness in case of an escalation of the outbreak, and help in the development of vaccines and more efficient virus testing kits.

Japan has at least 940 confirmed cases of the virus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, including 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, whose quarantine in Yokohama led to international criticism that the containment was ineffective.

Iran prepares for widespread testing 

The coronavirus has killed 43 people amid 593 confirmed cases in Iran, the Islamic Republic’s health ministry said Saturday.

Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour urged people to stay away from mass gatherings, including funerals for those who succumb to the virus, and to limit their travel. He said Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” undergoing tests for the virus.

Iran has the world’s highest death toll outside of China, the epicentre of the outbreak that began late last year. The new figures from Iran this pushes the total cases in the Middle East to over 720.

Iraq has detected five new cases of coronavirus, four in Baghdad and one in Babel province, the health ministry said on Saturday, taking the total number of cases there to 13. The patients were placed in quarantine, the ministry said in a statement. 

More than 85,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, a large majority in China, with deaths topping 2,900.

The novel coronavirus emerged at the end of 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan where scientists believe it might have passed to humans from animals at a local market where bats, snakes and other wildlife were sold. China temporarily shut down all such markets in January.

Medics check drivers for suspected symptoms of COVID-19 in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Saturday. South Korea has reported its biggest surge in new coronavirus cases. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images)

New cases in mainland China have held steady at under 500 for past four days, with almost all of them in Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province.

The list of countries touched by the illness has climbed to nearly 60 as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands have reported their first cases.

South Korea, the second hardest hit country, reported 813 new cases on Saturday — the highest daily jump since confirming its first patient in late January and raising its total to 3,150.

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Streets were deserted in the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where a state of emergency was issued until mid-March.

Seventy cases — the largest from a single prefecture in Japan — have been detected in the island prefecture, where experts have raised concern about growing clusters of patients with unknown transmission routes.

Health Canada has confirmed 16 cases, with seven in British Columbia, eight in Ontario and one in Quebec.

The total accumulated number of confirmed cases in Italy has risen to 1,128, the latest data shows, making it the worst affected country in Europe. That figures includes some 50 people who have recovered and the 29 deaths.

Eight more people have died in Italy from coronavirus, the country’s civil protection agency said on Saturday, bringing the total to 29, while the number of those testing positive for the illness jumped by some 240 over the last 24 hours.

France and Germany were also seeing increases, with each reporting 57 cases, and two deaths in France.

On Saturday, Bahrain threatened legal prosecution against travellers who came from Iran and hadn’t been tested for the virus, and also barred public gatherings for two weeks. The tiny island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia has been hit with 38 cases and has shut down flights to halt the spread of the virus.

All of Bahrain’s cases link back to Iran. Bahrain’s interior ministry said in a statement that 2,292 people had come to the kingdom from Iran before the announcement of the outbreak there. Of those, only “310 citizens” had called authorities and undergone testing, the ministry said.

The ministry “affirmed that the required legal proceedings would be taken against anyone who returned from Iran in February and didn’t call to make appointments for the tests,” the interior ministry said. “It highlighted that preventing the outbreak of the infection is the responsibility of individuals and society as a whole.”

Salon worker in Australia tests positive

Australia announced a travel ban on foreign nationals and non-permanent residents entering the country from Iran on Saturday. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said that from 1 March, those people will be forced to spend a fortnight in another country before being allowed into Australia.

Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family will need to self-isolate for two weeks after returning from Iran.

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From stocking up on supplies to changing travel plans, The National looks at how Canadians can prepare for a coronavirus outbreak and what may be unnecessary. 1:52

Australian authorities are also currently trying to track down up to 40 people who went to a Gold Coast salon and treated by a beautician who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday. The 63-year-old woman had recently returned from Iran and started feeling ill on Thursday while working at the Hair Plus salon, at a shopping centre in Southport, Queensland.

The woman has become the ninth Queenslander to fall ill with the virus. She is currently in a stable condition and in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital.

Australia has now confirmed 23 cases of the new virus.

70 cases on Japan’s island of Hokkaido

Streets were deserted in the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where a state of emergency was issued until mid-March. Seventy cases — the largest from a single prefecture in Japan — have been detected in the island prefecture, where experts have raised concern about growing clusters of patients with unknown transmission routes.

The head of the World Health Organization on Friday announced that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was “very high,” while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “window of opportunity” for containing the virus was narrowing.

Stock markets around the world plunged again Friday. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index took yet another hit, closing down nearly 360 points. The index has dropped more than 14 per cent from a recent high, making this the market’s worst week since 2008, during the global financial crisis.

In Asia, Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and events that were expected to attract tens of thousands of people were called off, including a concert series by the K-pop group BTS.

Tourist arrivals in Thailand are down 50 per cent compared with a year ago, and in Italy — which has reported 888 cases, the most of any country outside of Asia — hotel bookings are falling and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the spectre of recession. The Swiss government banned events with more than 1,000 people, while at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, basins of holy water were emptied for fear of spreading germs.

In a report published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Chinese health officials said the death rate from the illness known as COVID-19 was 1.4 per cent, based on 1,099 patients at more than 500 hospitals throughout China.

Assuming there are many more cases with no or very mild symptoms, the rate “may be considerably less than 1 per cent,” U.S. health officials wrote in an editorial in the journal. That would make the virus more like a severe seasonal flu than a disease similar to its genetic cousins SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Economic growth could slow

Given the ease of spread, however, the virus could gain footholds around the world and many could die.

Europe’s economy is already teetering on the edge of recession. A measure of business sentiment in Germany fell sharply last week, suggesting that some companies could postpone investment and expansion plans. China is a huge export market for German manufacturers.

Economists have forecast global growth will slip to 2.4 per cent this year, the slowest since the Great Recession in 2009, and down from earlier expectations closer to 3 per cent. For the United States, estimates are falling to as low as 1.7 per cent growth this year, down from 2.3 per cent in 2019.

But if COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic, economists expect the impact could be much worse, with the U.S. and other global economies falling into recession.

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