NEWS / World Today
Coronavirus: Rapid spread raises fears of global pandemic
Fears are growing that the coronavirus outbreak could become a pandemic as new cases are reported around the world. A surge of infections in South Korea and Italy, and an alarming rise in the death toll in Iran over the weekend, triggered steep falls in Asian share markets and Wall Street stock futures on Monday as investors fled to safe havens such as gold.
Most infections are in China but other countries including South Korea, Italy and Iran are battling to contain the virus, which causes the respiratory disease Covid-19.
A pandemic is declared when an infectious disease threatens different parts of the world simultaneously.
No vaccine is available so far to prevent the new coronavirus.
About 77,000 people in China, where the virus emerged last year, have been infected and nearly 2,600 have died.
More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in 26 other countries and there have been eight deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
On Monday Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain reported their first cases, all involving people who had returned from Iran.
South Korea - which has the largest number of confirmed cases outside China - reported another 161 infections on Monday taking the total there to more than 760. Seven people have died.
Around 7,700 troops have been quarantined after 11 military members were infected.
But the biggest virus clusters have been linked to a hospital and a religious group near the south-eastern city of Daegu.
Italy has the largest number of cases in Europe - 150 with at least three deaths - and announced a series of drastic measures over the weekend to try to contain the outbreak.
In the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, a lock-down is in place in several small towns. For the next two weeks, 50,000 residents will not be able to leave without special permission.
Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled - including several top-flight football matches.
Officials have yet to find the initial carrier of the virus in the country.
Iran said on Sunday it had 43 confirmed cases of the virus, most of them in the holy city of Qom. Twelve of those infected have died, the highest number of deaths outside China.
Meanwhile, North Korea has quarantined 380 foreigners in a bid to stop the coronavirus from breaking out.
The foreigners are mostly diplomats stationed in the capital Pyongyang