Health officials in the United States warned Tuesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country appears inevitable, marking a significant change in tone as global travel disruptions continued to worsen, South Korea exceeded 1,000 cases, Italy saw a 45 percent one-day increase in cases, and Iran reported at least 15 deaths.

China and South Korea announced new cases of the coronavirus, raising concerns in both nations about how long it could take for normal life to return. South Korea confirmed 144 more cases, bringing its total to 977, the most outside China. President Moon Jae-in visited the city of Daegu, where more than half of the country’s confirmed cases have been found, Tuesday afternoon local time.

In Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak, the death toll rose to 11 amid 322 confirmed infections. Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, most of which health authorities linked to Italy.

Travel disruptions also continued to spread, with the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s most critical aviation hubs, saying it would suspend all travel to and from Iran, the Middle East’s coronavirus epicenter. Health authorities in Bahrain, Iraq, and Oman also announced new cases Tuesday, while in Iran, an opposition lawmaker and the deputy health minister were among 95 people who’ve tested positive for the virus. The latter had appeared on Iranian television just the day before, offering assurance the situation was under control.

Early Tuesday, global markets appeared to stabilize after Monday’s heavy losses — until the Dow Jones fell 900 points.

Here are the latest developments:

● The Dow Jones dived 900 points Tuesday afternoon after the CDC warned of coronavirus inevitability in the United States. “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States,” Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters. “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”

● A Chinese health official warned that at least 28 days without new cases are needed to be able to say an area is free of the outbreak, raising questions about how long it will take for normal life to resume.

● A fourth former passenger from the Diamond Princess cruise liner has died. Japan says 691 people on the ship tested positive for the virus, although that figure does not include more than 20 people found to have the virus after returning to their home countries.

Trump defends U.S. response amid criticism from Democratic candidates

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President Trump defended his administration’s response to the coronaivirus epidemic against a flurry of criticism from Democratic presidential candidates, who said in Tuesday night’s primary debate that he wasn’t doing enough to address the deadly outbreak.

“CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus, including the very early closing of our borders to certain areas of the world,” Trump tweeted.

“No matter how well we do, however, the Democrats talking point is that we are doing badly,” he wrote. “If the virus disappeared tomorrow, they would say we did a really poor, and even incompetent, job. Not fair, but it is what it is.”

The president’s tweets came as Democrats on the debate stage in South Carolina blasted the way the administration has handled the public health crisis.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ridiculed Trump’s recent unfounded assertion that the outbreak could “miraculously” subside by April — a claim that health experts say is dubious at best.

Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg criticized the White House for cutting funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) criticized Trump’s muted response to the crisis. Trump has made few public comments about the coronavirus aside from playing down the economic fallout from the outbreak and touting his administration’s actions to stop the spread of the virus in the United States.

China reports more than 400 new cases, 52 new deaths

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The Chinese government on Wednesday announced there were 406 new coronavirus cases by the end of the day Tuesday and 52 new deaths in the country, all of which were in the Hubei province.

This brought China’s cumulative totals to 78,064 infections and 2,715 deaths, according to official figures.

The number of new cases and deaths announced Wednesday were a slight decrease from the day before, but experts have warned against gleaning too much from Chinese statistics and day-to-day changes.

First U.S. service member tests positive for coronavirus

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A soldier stationed in South Korea has become the first U.S. service member to test positive for coronavirus, the United States Forces Korea confirmed late Tuesday.

The 23-year-old soldier is in self-quarantine at an off-base residence, officials said in a statement. He is stationed at Camp Carroll, and health professionals are working to determine if others may have been exposed.

“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” the USFK wrote Tuesday.

South Korea coronavirus cases exceed 1,100

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SEOUL — South Korea reported 169 additional cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing up the national tally to 1,146.

Of the latest cases, 134 are in southern city of Daegu, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the virus-hit city with aides on Tuesday. After one of attendees at a Daegu meeting with Moon tested positive for the virus, presidential aides and reporters who attended the meeting have been advised to quarantine themselves, according to South Korea’s state-funded Yonhap News Agency. A spokesman for the president said he could not confirm the media report.

South Korea’s National Assembly canceled its plenary session on Monday and temporarily closed its buildings after a coronavirus patient had been found to have attended a parliamentary forum last week. Several lawmakers who attended the event also got tested for the virus this week.

South Korea’s 500,000-strong military said 18 soldiers have been diagnosed with the virus as of Wednesday. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told soldiers not to leave their barracks other than for exceptional situations.

What’s going to happen once WHO declares coronavirus pandemic?

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Experts say the coronavirus is on the cusp of becoming a pandemic. Some say it’s already there.

So far, the World Health Organization has declined to officially declare a pandemic. What happens once WHO crosses that line?

In some ways, nothing. Invoking the P-word won’t trigger any new funding, protocols or disaster response, experts say. It is more an acknowledgement of reality.

That’s why WHO may be hesitating to make the declaration because there’s little upside to it and plenty of downside such as causing widespread fear and panic.

“Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may cause fear,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news briefing last week.

That’s not to say, however, such a declaration wouldn’t be a big deal. A pandemic declaration would mean that this new disease can no longer be contained and that countries need to shift their efforts instead to dealing with the fallout.

In the past, WHO’s declarations of pandemic had much bigger policy implications. The last time WHO declared a pandemic during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu, it triggered aggressive actions by many, such as millions in spending to buy vaccines. But H1N1 turned out not to be as deadly and disruptive as feared and a lot of governments were mad about buying vaccines that they ended up not using, and harshly criticized WHO for its declaration. Burned by that response, WHO got rid of the six-stage procedure that led up to it declaring influenza pandemic.

“Each time they went up a stage, it raised alarm. When they finally reached pandemic stage it caused enormous panic,” said Lawrence Gostin, global health law professor at Georgetown University. “It was so dysfunctional and caused so much fear and panic that WHO abandoned that approach.”

WHO’s current approach is much more vague, essentially leaving it up to leaders to declare a pandemic when they deem it necessary. Experts say WHO officials may be leery of causing panic as in the past, but if they wait too long, they risk losing the public’s trust — an essential element in public health crises.

“In many ways whether we’re in a pandemic is a semantic question,” said Alexandra Phelan, a global health lawyer at Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security. “But if officials delay describing something as what it is, that can undermine their authority and cause mistrust.”

President of El Salvador bans travelers from South Korea and Italy

11:30 p.m.
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Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, announced on Tuesday that he’d directed his mirgration and immigration department to restrict entry of people traveling from South Korea and Italy to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country.

In his announcement, Bukele said citizens and diplomats traveling from these countries will be required to spend 30 days in quarantine.

Could the Olympics be affected by coronavirus? IOC has three months to decide, one official says.

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Olympics officials are warily watching the spread of the coronavirus as they begin to consider the potential implications for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

Moving the Games to another city is unlikely, as is postponing them for a year and then holding them in Tokyo, an official told the Associated Press. A decision on whether to hold the Games or take action, up to a complete cancellation, could be delayed until late May, two months ahead of the July 24 Opening Ceremonies.

“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee official since 1978, told the AP. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

If coronavirus makes it difficult to hold the Games as originally scheduled, Pound said, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.” He added, “This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’ ”

The IOC will continue to confer with the World Health Organization and keep watch, although Pound said “all indications” point to the Games coming off without a hitch and on schedule. Still, much remains unknown and the WHO has warned countries to be “in a phase of preparedness,” although it has declined to categorize the outbreaks as a pandemic, in which epidemics become rampant in multiple countries and continents simultaneously.

Read more here.

First confirmed coronavirus case in Algeria

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Algeria on Tuesday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, according to the Italian news agency AdnKronos.

The virus was reportedly found in an Italian citizen who arrived in the North African country Feb. 17. The man was reportedly put into quarantine, according to AdnKronos, who cited Algreia’s health minister.

San Francisco mayor declares state of emergency over coronavirus

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency for the city Tuesday amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Even though there have been no confirmed cases in San Francisco, the outlet noted that the emergency declaration will allow the city to be better equipped to combat the disease, providing resources as needed.

“The global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness,” Breed said in a statement. “We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm.”

The Chronicle notes that a state of emergency will allow health officials to expedite emergency planning measures and bolster the city’s rapid response capabilities. Other California cities, including San Diego, and Santa Clara County, have taken similar steps to be prepared if more cases of coronavirus occur locally.

Air Canada extends suspension of direct flights to China

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TORONTO – Canada’s largest airline said Tuesday that it is extending its suspension of direct flights to China from the end of February until early April because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Air Canada, which operates 33 flights from Canada to Beijing and Shanghai each week, had first said that service would be suspended on those routes until Feb. 29 – a reaction to the federal government’s advisory against non-essential travel to China. Now, the suspension is slated to last until at least April 10.

“Air Canada will continue to monitor this evolving situation closely in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada and Global Affairs and will adjust its schedule as appropriate,” the Montreal-based carrier said in a statement.

The company said it would also be extending the suspension of its service from Toronto to Hong Kong until April 30 because of “reduced market demand.” Passengers can continue to fly to Hong Kong on the seven weekly flights to the city from Vancouver.

Canada updated its travel advisory for northern Italy on Tuesday, advising Canadians to “exercise a high degree of caution” because of the spread of the novel coronavirus there.

Top health officials back off CDC messaging that coronavirus spread in U.S. is inevitable

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In an afternoon news conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and other top health officials backed off the CDC’s strong warning earlier Tuesday that the spread of the coronavirus in the United States was inevitable.

The briefing was scheduled on short notice, and the markedly different tone came after the Dow fell more than 800 points in the wake of the CDC’s warning.

Instead, Azar, a top CDC official who was not on the CDC call earlier Tuesday and other leading public health officials said the United States wanted to have a large-scale response prepared “just in case” there was person-to-person spread.

“We believe the immediate risk here in the United States remains low, and we’re working hard to keep that risk low,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during the news conference that the government was about a month and a half away from beginning early clinical safety tests for a coronavirus vaccine, adding that it would take a year to a year and a half before the vaccine was widely available.

As stocks plunge, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says U.S. has coronavirus ‘contained’

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The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 900 points Tuesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned domestically of an inevitable coronavirus outbreak. But Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, nonetheless presented an upbeat assessment Tuesday.

“We have contained this,” he told reporters. He said U.S. government prevention efforts were “pretty close to airtight.”

Kudlow warned against panic, saying, “I don’t think there’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.”

“This is very tightly contained in the U.S.,” he said. “Elsewhere it’s a human disaster.”

Kudlow’s comments came in stark contrast to concerns in the United States about how prepared federal and state authorities are for a possible outbreak, as well as the effectiveness of preventive policies in place.

Dow Jones industrial average dives 3.3 percent in coronavirus-fueled sell-off

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Wall Street whipsawed Tuesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average digging itself into a 900-point hole, or 3.3 percent, as investors absorbed increasingly worrisome forecasts about the coronavirus, which is spreading faster and more broadly than thought and renewing recessionary anxiety.

The plunge worsened after health officials warned that the spread of coronavirus in the United States appears inevitable. In separate briefings to lawmakers and reporters on Tuesday, officials said they were no longer assessing the outbreak in terms of if there would be community spread, but when. The warnings by officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other agencies markedly changed the tone about risks from the virus.

“We are finally starting to see the markets react to the coronavirus,” said Nicole Tanenbaum, chief investment strategist at Chequers Financial Management. “There has been a lot of complacency in the market and a sentiment-driven rally that hasn’t taken into account that this virus may not be as contained as we hoped it would be.”

The volatility followed a dismal session that saw the Dow slide more than 1,000 points in one of the steepest point losses in history. The three major U.S. indexes all posted declines of 3.5 percent or more on Monday.

The latest target of racist rumors about coronavirus: the ubiquitous dance troupe Shen Yun

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At a performance by the ubiquitous Chinese dance troupe Shen Yun, the only thing audiences risk exposure to is a little culture and some religious and political propaganda. But for the past few days, health officials in Utah have had to quash social media-fueled rumors linking the dancers to covid-19, better known as the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Shen Yun performances scheduled to begin Tuesday were preceded by days of inaccurate rumors circulating around Salt Lake City claiming that the dancers had recently come from South Korea and may pose a health risk, said Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman with the Salt Lake County Health Department. Calls to local and state health departments about coronavirus are not unusual, but the link to Shen Yun was “something new this weekend,” Rupp told The Washington Post on Monday night.

The County Health Department on Monday issued an announcement via Twitter reminding people that coronavirus risk is linked to recent travel to China, where the outbreak originated, and not to groups of people or particular ethnic groups.

Epidemiologists with the Utah Department of Health have been averaging about 25 calls a day about the coronavirus, which department spokeswoman Charla Haley characterized as high.

“We heard some rumors that were going around in regards to the Shen Yun troupe, and we just wanted to make sure people knew it was safe to go to the performance, that we weren’t worried about any of the dancers having coronavirus,” Haley told The Post.

Shen Yun issued a statement confirming that the coronavirus outbreak was not affecting performances and reminding audiences that members of the New York-based group that comprises seven traveling dance companies are in fact banned from China.

Read more here.