US coronavirus death toll rises as Chinese cases fall
The death toll from the new coronavirus in the United States climbed to six on Monday as the contagion took root in the country’s Pacific Northwest and continued its march across the globe.
Worldwide, close to 3,100 people have succumbed to the illness even as a clear shift in the crisis was emerging, with nine times as many cases recorded outside China as inside, according to the UN health agency.
Andorra, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Jordan, Latvia, Portugal, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia were among countries that confirmed their first cases, along with Senegal, which became the second sub-Saharan African country to do so.
All of the US deaths have occurred in the state of Washington, where officials warned residents the battle against the disease was shifting from containment to mitigation.
“The risk for all of us of becoming infected will be increasing,” said Jeff Duchin, a health officer in King County where five of the deaths occurred. The district is home to Seattle, a city with a population of more than 700,000 people.
The White House, which has been accused of downplaying the threat from the virus, continued to strike a bullish tone. Vice President Mike Pence declared that a treatment “could literally be available by this summer, or early fall.”
He was likely referring to remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by the pharmaceutical firm Gilead that has already been used to treat one US patient and was moving toward two expansive final stage trials in Asia.
Pence also announced American pharmaceuticals were teaming up in a consortium to fight the virus, and said that South Korea and Italy, two of the hardest-hit nations, would screen all their airline passengers bound for the US.
Despite its world-class hospitals and cutting edge research, the US is viewed as vulnerable to an epidemic because of glaring disparities in its health care system, including nearly 28 million people without coverage.
– ‘Window of opportunity’ –
With fears of a pandemic on the rise after the virus emerged in China late last year, the World Health Organization urged countries to stock up on critical care ventilators to treat patients with severe symptoms.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a “window of opportunity” remained to contain the outbreak, noting that “more than 130 countries have not detected any cases yet.”
Globally, the virus has infected nearly 90,000 people in more than 60 nations.
Italy, Europe’s worst-affected country with around 1,700 infections, said Monday its deaths from the virus had jumped 18 to 52.
The outbreak has raised fears for the world economy, with the OECD slashing its global growth forecast by half a percentage point to 2.4%, the worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis.