CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) – The number of people in Europe infected with the novel coronavirus respiratory disease continues to grow with Italy reporting a spike in deaths and other major countries, including Germany and France, discovering they have a lot more sick people too.
The disease’s spread is raising fears of a sharp economic downturn in Europe, where key economies were struggling even before the coronavirus outbreak. Tourism, an economic engine in many parts of Europe, is taking a hit as people cancel trips and the global spread of the disease is interrupting supply chains and depressing demand for export goods.
On Monday, Italy remained at the center of the outbreak in Europe. Italian officials reported that 52 people have died from the disease, known as COVID-19, and that a total of 1,835 people have been found infected with the virus.
But the number of infections is spreading across Europe. By Monday, two people in France had died and 130 people in all had become infected. In Germany, there were 129 infections. Spain and the United Kingdom also reported a spike in cases – 83 and 36, respectively.
On Monday, the World Health Organization said the spread of the virus can be contained. The agency said the global outbreak has not yet become a pandemic.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said the number of cases in China continued to decline while those outside China were rising. China reported 206 new cases on Sunday and only eight outside of Hubei province, where the disease is believed to have begun.
“In the last 24 hours there were almost nine times more cases reported outside China than inside China,” Ghebreyesus said.
As of early Monday, 8,739 cases outside of China have been reported from 61 countries. The biggest outbreaks are in Italy, Korea, Japan and Iran. The WHO head said a team of experts and supplies has been sent to Iran to help fight the outbreak there.
Ghebreyesus said this virus was unique.
“This virus is not influenza,” he said at a news conference. “We are in uncharted territory. We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures.”
He said containing COVID-19 “is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.” He said it appeared that many countries have been able to contain the virus.
He called on countries to take urgent steps to stop its spread. He noted that 90% of the 88,913 cases so far detected are in China and most of those in Hubei province.
European officials are racing to contain the virus with the European Commission setting up a task force to handle the crisis. Europe’s finance ministers and banking sector are working on measures to handle the fallout from the disease. Italy has pledged to spend $3.9 billion to help regions hit by the outbreak.
On Monday, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based intergovernmental economic agency, warned that the virus will cause a “sharp slowdown” in the global economy.
Laurence Boone, the organization’s chief economist, said the outbreak has led economists to downgrade growth forecasts for 2020 to 2.4%, the lowest since the 2008 financial meltdown.
“Regardless of where the virus spreads, the world economy, previously weakened by persistent trade and political tensions, has already suffered a sharp setback,” Boone said at a news conference.
In Germany, more than half of the infections were found in North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous state with its cities of Dusseldorf, Essen, Cologne and Dortmund. In response, schools were closing in the state. Fears of an outbreak also led to panic buying at supermarkets, German media reported.
In France, the government imposed a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces and French ministers urged people to refrain from kissing each other on the cheek in greetings. Out of concern about becoming infected from tourists, the staff at the Louvre voted to close the venerable museum. A major book fair in Paris was canceled as were events at the Paris Fashion Week.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)