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Reuters

Global downturn looms as countries struggle to contain coronavirus outbreak

A volunteer keeps watch near an entrance blocked by barricades and shared bicycles at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

The coronavirus spread further on Friday, with cases reported for the first time in at least six countries across four continents, battering markets and leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise its impact risk alert to "very high."

Hopes that the epidemic that started in China late last year would be over in months, and that economic activity would quickly return to normal, have been shattered.

A man wearing a face mask walks past a mural near a construction site n Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

World shares were on course for their largest weekly fall since the 2008 financial crisis, bringing the global wipeout to $5 trillion as supply chains were disrupted, travel plans postponed and major events canceled. [MKTS/GLOB]

The WHO said it was raising its assessment of the global risk to 'very high' from 'high', which its head of emergencies Dr Mike Ryan said was intended to put national authorities on full alert.

"I think this is a reality check for every government on the planet - wake up, get ready, this virus may be on its way and you need to be ready," Ryan said.

A community worker with sanitizing equipment disinfects the street next to barricades in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

The latest WHO figures indicate over 82,000 people have been infected, with over 2,700 deaths in China and 57 deaths in 46 other countries.

Mexico, Nigeria, New Zealand, Lithuania, Belarus and Azerbaijan reported their first cases, all with travel history connected to epicenters in Italy and Iran. Mexico is the second Latin American country to register the virus, after Brazil.

The Nigerian case, an Italian man, is the first in sub-Saharan Africa. The man traveled through the capital and other parts of Nigeria for almost two days before he was isolated and quarantined, authorities said, underlining the difficulties already overstretched health services will have in containing the disease.

People wearing face masks walk next to barricades set up at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

Potentially making it even harder to eradicate, a growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive again, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital.

In addition to stockpiling medical supplies, some governments ordered schools shut and canceled big gatherings to try to halt the flu-like disease. Switzerland canceled next week's Geneva international car show, one of the industry's most important gatherings.

The New York Stock Exchange said it had "robust contingency plans" to allow it to continue operating if its floor had to close.

Residents wearing face masks are seen outside their houses at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

SURGING OUTSIDE CHINA

The outbreak appears to be easing in China, where it first emerged late last year in an market illegally trading wildlife.

Volunteers wearing face masks keep watch at an entrance to a residential building in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

Mainland China reported 327 new cases in the last 24 hours, the lowest in the country in more than a month, and China's three biggest airlines restored some flights.

But the virus is surging elsewhere. Countries other than China now account for about three-quarters of new infections.

South Korea, with the most cases outside China, reported 571 new infections on Friday, bringing the total to 2,337, with 13 people dead.

A woman wearing a face mask collects food purchased through group orders at the entrance of a residential compound in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

The death toll in Italy rose to 21, with nearly 900 testing positive. Cafes and schools have been closed as daily life has ground to a halt.

The WHO's Ryan said Iran's outbreak may be worse than realized. Its toll of 34 dead is the highest outside China, although there are reports of much higher numbers. A WHO team is expected to be in Iran by Sunday or Monday.

In the United States, the outbreak of the new coronavirus and efforts to prepare for its possible spread have become political in a presidential election year.

A security guard wearing a face mask keeps watch at an entrance to a residential building in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

Federal government health officials told lawmakers the country had insufficient testing resources, a source said, and Democratic presidential candidates slammed the government's response. But the White House played down the coronavirus crisis and called the high level of news coverage a ploy to hurt U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration plans to use defense legislation to boost production of protective gear like masks and gloves, the health secretary said.

Online retailer Amazon.com joined other companies in implementing travel restrictions for its employees.

A sign advising residents to stay at home is seen on a building near a police vehicle in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

Japan is scheduled to host the 2020 Olympics in July but Ryan said discussions were being held about whether to go ahead. Organizers will decide next week on the ceremonial torch relay, due to arrive on March 20 for a 121-day journey.

Confirmed cases in Japan have risen above 200, with four deaths, excluding more than 700 cases on a quarantined cruise liner, Diamond Princess. Six people from the ship have died, including a man who was reported on Friday as the first British person to die from the disease.

A man returns to his house with food delivered by volunteers at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

[Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.]

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ryan Woo, Yingzhi Yang in Beijing, Lisa Lambert and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Sangmi Chai in Seoul, Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Kate Kelland in London, Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Michael Shields and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Writing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool)

A delivery worker checks his mobile phone on an electric bike filled with vegetables on a street in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.
A man wearing a face mask walks with groceries next to barricades set up at an entrance to a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.
People wearing face masks walk next to barriers set up at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.
A man wearing a face mask walks past a volunteer carrying food at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.
A man wearing a face mask walks by barricades set up at a residential area in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.
A woman wearing a protective mask is seen in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by a novel coronavirus outbreak, at the Pudong financial district in Shanghai, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Employees work on the production line of an antimalarial drug that Chinese officials said has curative effect on the novel coronavirus disease, at a pharmaceutical company in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China February 27, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks as it rains in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks as it rains in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in line to buy masks at a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks as it rains in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus wait in a line to buy masks in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks as a government official sanitizes the floor in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks as it rains in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A man takes a photographs of people waiting in a line to buy masks in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks as it rains in front of a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People wearing masks queue to buy masks at a drugstore in Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
People wearing masks after the coronavirus outbreak wait in a line to buy masks at a department store in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji