Coronavirus puts world in 'uncharted territory', World Health Organization warns

The world is in "uncharted territory" due coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The global death toll pushed past 3,000 on Monday, and the number of people infected topped 89,000, with fast-expanding outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

  • Italy

Outside of Asia, Italy has the most cases of Covid-19 and in the last 24 hours the number of infections ballooned 50% to 1,694.

In total, 52 people have died from coronavirus in the country.

Health officials in northern Italy, where the majority of the cases are, sought to bring doctors out of retirement and accelerate nursing students’ graduations to help an overwhelmed public health system.

In Rome, which has only seen 12 reported cases, tourists are staying away at what would normally be a busy time of year.

Experts warn that if cases of Covid-19 continue to increase in the UK, the situation in the Italian capital and the impact it is having on businesses, could be mirrored in London within weeks.

Rome has seen a fall in tourism following the coronavirus outbreak in the north of the country. Credit: AP
  • China

As alarms grew louder in much of the world, positive signs emerged from China, where the outbreak started two months ago.

On a positive note for the country at the epicentre of the outbreak, the number of new deaths and cases being reported has continued to decline over the past few days.

Almost nine times more cases were reported outside of China than inside it over the past 24 hours, according to the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

China reported 202 new cases, its lowest daily count since January 21, and the city at the heart of the crisis, Wuhan, said 2,570 patients were released.

At the largest of 16 temporary hospitals that were rapidly built in Wuhan, worries over the availability of supplies and protective gear eased, along with pressure on medical staff.

Zhang Junjian, who leads a temporary hospital in Wuhan with 1,260 staff, said optimism is high that the facility will no longer be needed in the coming weeks.

In total, China has reported more than 80,000 cases and the majority of the world's Covid-19 deaths.

  • South Korea

South Korea, which is suffering the worst outbreak outside China, said it recorded 599 new cases on Monday, bringing the total to 4,335.

The death toll rose to 26.

To cope with the rising number of cases, the country said hospitals will be reserved for patients with serious symptoms or pre-existing conditions, with mild cases routed to other designated facilities.

South Korea extended the shutdown of its schools for two more weeks to March 23, and the leader of a church blamed for being the source of the country’s largest cluster of infections bowed in apology.

“We also did our best but weren’t able to contain it fully,” said Lee Man-hee, the 88-year-old leader of the Shincheonji church, which some mainstream Christian groups reject as a cult.

Iran has the highest number of Covid-19 deaths. Credit: AP
  • Iran

After China, Iran has reported the highest number of Covid-19 deaths.

The Islamic Republic has confirmed 1,501 cases and 66 deaths, but many believe the true number is larger.

Its caseload surged more than 250% in just 24 hours and on Monday a member of the council that advises the country's supreme leader died of Covid-19, just days after the death of an MP.

Major Shiite shrines in Iran remain open despite civilian authorities’ calls to close them.

The holy cities of Mashad and Qom, where Shiites often touch and kiss shrines in a show of faith, have had high numbers of infections.

The Revolutionary Guard said it will install some mobile hospitals in response, and authorities have been cleaning the shrines and spraying down streets with disinfectant.

  • United States

In the US, the number of cases passed 90, and the country's death toll reached five, all in Washington state.

Health officials said one of the latest victims was a man in his 70s from a nursing facility near Seattle, in a region where researchers believe the virus may have been circulating for weeks undetected.

The virus has reached at least 10 states, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In densely populated New York City, a health care worker who had returned from Iran was in quarantine at home, according to governor Andrew Cuomo.

He said the city is ramping up preparations and cautioned against panic.

China has seen the number of Covid-19 cases fall over the past few days. Credit: AP
  • Worldwide

More than 60 countries, including nine of the 10 most populous, have reported infections.

Malaysia, Tunisia, Senegal, Jordan and Portugal were among the newest places to announce they had detected the virus on Monday.

  • What have worldwide organisations said?

The WHO’s chief of emergencies offered hope on Monday when he said that because Covid-19 is not as easily transmitted as flu, “it offers us a glimmer … that this virus can be suppressed and contained”.

Mike Ryan said that even regions that have taken less aggressive measures than the extraordinary lockdowns implemented by Beijing have kept the virus in check.

Meanwhile the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that the world economy could contract this quarter for the first time since the international financial crisis more than a decade ago.

“Global economic prospects remain subdued and very uncertain,” the agency said.