Coronavirus Updates: Disruptions, Rising Cases, Market Tremors and Warnings

Americans should brace for the likelihood that the coronavirus will spread to communities in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

President Trump, in India, said that the United States was well able to protect itself against the spread of the coronavirus and offered an optimistic outlook.

“I think the whole situation will start working out,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference. [Watch the video.]

But his own health officials were not so upbeat. Dr. Messonnier said that public health officials have no idea whether the spread of the disease to the United States would be mild or severe, but that Americans should be ready for a significant disruption to their daily lives.

“We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” Dr. Messonnier said.

The secretary of health and human services delivered an equally sobering message on Tuesday. The secretary, Alex M. Azar II, told a Senate committee, “This is an unprecedented, potentially severe health challenge globally.”

“We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus,” Mr. Azar said. “And we need to be realistic about that.”

Federal and local health departments will need as many as 300 million masks for health care workers and additional ventilators for hospitals to prepare for a major outbreak of the coronavirus, he said. On Monday, the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion to help stop the spread of the virus.

Lawmakers from both parties made it clear they were unconvinced the Trump administration was prepared. When Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, pressed for an exact number of people expected to be infected, the acting secretary of the Homeland Security Department, Chad F. Wolf, could not answer.

“I’m all for committees and task forces but you’re the secretary,” Mr. Kennedy responded. “I think you ought to know that answer.

A clinical trial has begun in Nebraska to test whether an experimental drug can treat the new coronavirus, starting with an American who was quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, the National Institutes of Health said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration said it was closely watching the supplies of 20 unrelated drugs that are either made in China, where the epidemic has drastically reduced manufacturing, or contain ingredients from China. The agency did not say which drugs, but the world relies heavily on China for supplies of many essential medications, like aspirin and penicillin.

In the trial, the patient is being treated with the drug remdesivir, an antiviral developed by Gilead Sciences.

The test is taking place at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, which has a special biocontainment unit, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the N.I.H. Thirteen people from the cruise ship have been taken there for treatment.

There are no approved treatments for illnesses caused by coronaviruses, including the new one, known as COVID-19. Remdesivir is already being tested in two clinical trials in China, but efforts to enroll patients there have faltered.

“We urgently need a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the allergy and infectious diseases institute, at a briefing at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Several companies are also working to develop a vaccine for the virus. One of them, Moderna, said Monday it had delivered an experimental vaccine to the N.I.H. for early testing in humans, a record-setting pace.

  • Updated Feb. 25, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      The World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world is not ready for a major outbreak.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

But “even at rocket speed,” releasing a vaccine would take at least a year, Dr. Fauci cautioned.

He projected that initial human trials would begin in a month and a half, with about 45 people, and last three to four months. Then it would have to be expanded to “hundreds, if not thousands” of subjects in countries with active disease transmission, which would take six to eight months, he said.

A day after its worst one-day slide in two years, the S&P 500 fell 3 percent on Tuesday in response to the coronavirus threat, a decline that put the blue chip index firmly in the red for the year.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to a record low, a possible sign that investors expect growth in the United States to slow.

Investors continued to dump stocks a day after the S&P 500 had lost 3.4 percent, after officials in Italy and South Korea reported new infections on Monday.

Tuesday’s decline came as federal officials warned that the epidemic was likely to reach the United States with potentially severe impacts.

For weeks, U.S. investors had largely shrugged off the economic risks of the virus even as it disrupted global supply chains and shut down factories in China. As recently as last Wednesday, the S&P 500 was at a record high. Fears have grown stronger about the virus’s effect on the global economy.

The declines in the S&P 500 were led by energy, industrial and materials shares, the sectors of the market closely tied to Chinese demand for raw materials.

As stocks dropped sharply, investors moved into the safety of government bonds, pushing their prices up and yields down.

A coronavirus outbreak in Italy, the worst outside Asia, appears to be spreading. New cases — most linked to the Italian epicenter, Lombardy — were reported on Tuesday in Spain, Austria, Croatia, Switzerland and France.

The authorities in Algeria reported their country’s first confirmed case, an Italian, though it was not immediately clear if the person had been in Italy recently.

Italy reported a total of 322 infections through Tuesday, up from 229 a day earlier, with reports of new cases in Tuscany and Sicily. The death toll rose to 10, from seven.

Austrian authorities said two 24-year-olds from Lombardy living in Innsbruck, Austria, had tested positive.

A 36-year-old Italian woman living in Barcelona tested positive after returning from a trip to Lombardy, according to Spanish authorities. They are also dealing, on the island of Tenerife, with a couple from Lombardy who are both infected.

A man who visited Milan in mid-February has became Croatia’s first confirmed coronavirus patient, the Croatian prime minister, Andrej Plenkovic, said in a news conference.

France announced two new cases, one a young Chinese woman who arrived in early February and the other a Frenchman returning from a trip to Lombardy.

The reports added to fears that the virus could spread rapidly across the Continent, where the Schengen zone allows largely free movement among 26 countries.

Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, said after a meeting of European health ministers that they were working on a “collective strategy.”

“As of now, we wish to be extremely clear on the fact that there is no reason to close the borders between our countries, which would be disproportionate and inefficient,” he told reporters in Rome.

Italy has installed checkpoints and deployed its army to the “red area” in Lombardy, Michele Capone, a carabinieri official, told the Italian news agency ANSA. With public gatherings restricted, the soccer team Internazionale of Milan will play its home game on Thursday, against Ludogorets of Bulgaria, without fans in the stadium.

In southern Italy, the region of Basilicata has said it will quarantine arriving northerners, while the regions of Puglia and Calabria have asked travelers from affected areas to inform the local authorities.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday that such restrictions were “not justified.”

The government of Croatia took pains to emphasize its preparedness and project calm. But the virus’s emergence in the Balkans could test poorly funded health systems, which are hemorrhaging medical professionals bound for western Europe.

Budapest Airport announced that it procured a thermal camera last week and would rent another to screen travelers for fevers, while experts warned that Hungary was ill-equipped for an outbreak.

Just one day after confirming Bahrain’s first infection, the country’s health ministry said Tuesday that it had 23 cases — most of them people arriving on flights from the United Arab Emirates.

On Monday, Bahrain imposed a 48-hour ban on flights arriving from Sharjah and Dubai, in the U.A.E.

Those flights often carry people traveling to and from Iran, regional news media said, but Bahrain’s health ministry did not say if any of the new cases involved such people. The case reported on Monday was linked to Iran.

If any of the new infections are tied to Iran, it would deepen concerns that the country is playing down both the extent of the outbreak there and its role in spreading the virus to other nations. Cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the U.A.E. and Canada have all been traced to Iran.

Bahrain’s health ministry said that “all passengers arriving from affected countries are being tested in a well-equipped and isolated area within the Bahrain International Airport.”

The infected passengers, a mix of Bahraini citizens and foreigners, were being quarantined and treated at a hospital, and people who have been in contact with them are also in quarantine, the ministry said.

China’s battle to contain the deadly coronavirus epidemic showed new signs of success, with a plunge in the rate of new infections. But that news was overshadowed by the unbridled expansion in Iran, South Korea and Italy, underlining the threat of a global pandemic racing out of control.

The World Health Organization said that the pace of confirmed new cases in China, which exceeded 2,000 a day a month ago, had dropped steadily, to a low of 508 on Monday. It said the severe measures imposed by the Chinese authorities to isolate patients and the hardest-hit areas had likely prevented hundreds of thousands of additional infections.

The city of Beijing has imposed new rules on workplaces, including one that prohibits workers from eating face-to-face. No more than half of an office’s employees should be at work on a given day, they must keep at least one meter apart from each other, each must have at least 2.5 square meters of working space, and elevator capacity cannot exceed 50 percent, the city said.

But while China appears to be having some success in managing the epidemic, W.H.O. officials have warned that the world at large is unprepared for a leap in infections, which could overwhelm medical resources in many countries. They also cautioned that new cases could suddenly resurge in China, as the government struggles to get people back to work.

By Tuesday, South Korea had reported a total of 977 cases, the second most in the world, and the Centers for Disease Control in the United States warned Americans not to travel there. Most of the cases reported by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, continue to come from Daegu, the city at the center of the outbreak in that country.

In Iran, a spike in coronavirus infections — including the top health official in charge of fighting the disease — has prompted fears of a contagion throughout the Middle East. In Italy, one of Europe’s largest economies, officials are struggling to prevent the epidemic from paralyzing the commercial center of Milan. And in New York, London, and Tokyo, financial markets plummeted Monday on fears that the virus will cripple the global economy.

The emergence of Italy, Iran, and South Korea as new hubs of the outbreak underscored the lack of a coordinated global strategy to combat the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 80,000 people in 37 countries, causing at least 2,600 deaths.

A hotel on the Spanish resort island of Tenerife was locked down under a police cordon on Tuesday after an Italian guest and his partner tested positive for the new coronavirus, the authorities said.

Around 1,000 guests are booked at the hotel, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace, at a resort that is popular with British tourists. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa.

The first patient, a doctor, had been on Tenerife for a week before he fell ill with a fever. He checked in at a local hospital, where he tested positive on Monday night and was placed in an isolation ward. His partner tested positive on Tuesday, health officials said.

The Spanish authorities said that more tests were being done in Madrid to confirm the diagnosis, and they ordered guests at the hotel not to leave until they were complete.

For those guests, it would be hard to imagine how their vacation could get worse. Over the weekend, a storm swept sands from the Sahara over the Canary Islands, forcing airports to close and stranding thousands of tourists.

Spain previously confirmed two cases of the virus, both foreigners who were hospitalized on Spanish islands: a German citizen on La Gomera and a Briton on Majorca.

Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, who has spearheaded the country’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, has contracted the illness, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, renewing concerns about the spread of the virus in a country that has become a focal point of the epidemic.

In an interview with the state-run news outlet IRNA, a spokesman for the ministry said that Mr. Harirchi had been experiencing weakness and flulike symptoms on Monday before holding a news briefing, and tested positive for the virus later in the day.

During the briefing, Mr. Harirchi could be seen repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow and shifting from foot to foot. On Tuesday, he posted a video from home detailing his diagnosis and self-quarantine.

A prominent member of Parliament, Mahmoud Sadeghi, posted on Twitter that he also had the virus.

Health officials quoted in Iranian state news media confirmed three more deaths, bringing the country’s total to 15. At least 95 people nationwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, most of them in the northern city of Qom, health officials said. Qom is an important religious center that draws millions of visitors annually, many from abroad.

Experts fear that the government may be concealing the true scale of the problem, and may not have the capacity to respond effectively if things begin to spiral out of control.

President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised speech, blamed Iran’s enemies for sowing panic in an attempt to shut down the country.

“This is one of the enemy’s plots to create panic to close down our society,” he said. “No, we all have to work, carry on with our activities and be careful and take the sick to the hospital.”

Calling the coronavirus “a plague,” an Iraqi lawmaker demanded on Tuesday that the government seal its borders with Iran “until the disease is completely controlled,” the same day that Iraq’s Health Ministry announced four more cases of the virus.

The demand, by Qutayba al-Jubori, chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee, came as governments across the region sought to limit the entry of Iranian travelers following an outbreak in that country that has killed at least 15 people.

The Iraqi government said it would suspend all flights from Iran beginning Monday afternoon, but by Tuesday morning, flights were still scheduled to and from Najaf, a central Iraqi city that is home to Shiite shrines popular with Iranian pilgrims.

Iraq reported its first case of the virus on Monday, a 22-year old religion student in Najaf. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry confirmed that a family of four from Kirkuk who had just returned from Iran had contracted the coronavirus.

The government told citizens to avoid crowded places including shrines, universities and schools, shopping malls and stores, sports activities and entertainment parks. Officials recommended avoiding kissing or shaking hands with others and urged people to use disposable napkins.

The firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr said he would suspend vast protests against his political opponents.

Other nations in the region issued travel restrictions on Tuesday. The United Arab Emirates, home to Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, has suspended all flights to Iran.

American citizens were advised on Monday to avoid nonessential travel to South Korea because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus there. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised the travel warning to Level Three, its highest warning.

“There is a widespread, ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that can be spread from person to person,” the C.D.C. said in an advisory. “Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions may be at risk of severe disease.”

The C.D.C. also warned that “there is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.”

The warning came as South Korea reported Tuesday that the number of cases in the country continued to climb fast, reaching 977, up from 156 on Friday. The majority have been centered in the area in and around Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, 180 miles southeast of Seoul. And roughly half the patients in the country are members of the Shincheonji religious group, a church that has a large following in the city.

President Moon Jae-in has put the country on the highest possible alert in its fight against the coronavirus.

But Daegu has not resorted to the kind of strict lockdown China has imposed on its hardest-hit places. Though the shops, offices and restaurants of Daegu are unusually empty, they are open for business.

Reporting and research was contributed by Raphael Minder, Matt Phillips, Russell Goldman, Megan Specia, Emma Bubola, Melissa Eddy, Joseph Orovic, Benjamin Novak, Keith Bradsher, Gerry Mullany, Aimee Ortiz, Alissa Rubin, Elaine Yu, Mark Landler, Steven Lee Myers, Sui-Lee Wee, Farah Stockman, Louis Keene, Noah Weiland, Emily Cochrane, Maggie Haberman, Pam Belluck, Noah Weiland, Katie Thomas, Elian Peltier, Choe Sang-Hun, Knvul Sheikh and Farnaz Fassihi.

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