Amid fears about where the next outbreak of a fast-spreading new virus would appear, infections and deaths continued to rise across the globe yesterday, emptying streets of tourists and workers, shaking economies and rewriting the realities of daily life.
Panic-buying of daily necessities emerged in Japan, tourist sites across Asia, Europe and the Mideast were deserted, and governments closed schools and banned big gatherings. Amusement parks were shut and concerts cancelled. In Paris, priests stopped placing sacramental bread in worshippers' mouths.
While the new coronavirus has extended its reach, definite geographic clusters of infections were emerging, with cases rising in Iran, Italy and South Korea. The United States recorded its first death, a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health conditions but who hadn't visited an affected area.
China reported a slight uptick in new cases over the previous 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days the number had exceeded 500. They remain almost entirely confined to the province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.
The list of countries hit climbed to nearly 60, and Ireland and Ecuador reported their first cases yesterday. More than 86,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus. Deaths have topped 2900.
Islam's holiest sites were closed to foreign pilgrims, and professional baseball teams played in deserted stadiums in Japan and officials in France advised residents to forgo customary greeting kisses.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended that a meeting March 9 where about 10,000 people were to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a UN conference on women's rights be drastically scaled back.
Many cases of illness have been relatively mild, and some infected apparently show no symptoms. That can allow for easier spread, and worries are mounting that prolonged quarantines, supply-chain disruptions and a sharp reduction in tourism and business travel could weaken the global economy or cause a recession.
South Korea, hardest hit after China, has more than 3500 cases.
Italy now has more than 1100 cases and 29 deaths.
The virus and the Covid-19 illness it causes have killed more than 40 people out of nearly 600 confirmed cases in Iran.
A study by Chinese researchers published on Saturday in the New England Journal of Medicine analysing 1099 patients at hospitals in China calculated a death rate of 1.4 per cent, much lower than earlier studies that focused on patients in Wuhan. If there were many more cases with no or very mild symptoms, the "fatality rate may be considerably less than 1 per cent", US health officials said.
That would make the virus more like a severe seasonal flu than similar to Sars.
Stock markets are falling on fears the virus will spread further.