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US could become global epicentre of coronavirus outbreak: WHO

WHO warns of a 'very large acceleration in cases in the US'

GENEVA/LONDON : The US could become the global epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.

WHO spokesman Margaret Harris said in Geneva there had been a "very large acceleration" in coronavirus infections in the US, which had the potential of becoming the new epicentre.

Over the past 24 hours, 85 per cent of new cases were from Europe and the US, she told reporters. Of those, 40 per cent were from the US.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Globally, confirmed cases exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early yesterday, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 16,500 deaths linked to the virus.

Asked whether the US could become the new epicentre, Dr Harris said: "We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US.

"So it does have that potential. We cannot say that is the case yet but it does have that potential."

COMPETITION

Some US state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

US President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulties.

"The world market for face masks and ventilators is crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy," he wrote in a tweet.

Public health authorities have pushed for stay-at-home restrictions as essential to curb widespread transmission.

But Mr Trump signalled he is considering a move in the opposite direction.

While a wave of statewide social distancing measures expanded, further stifling the US economy amid another day of plunging stock prices and growing fears of a global recession, Mr Trump said: "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. America will again and soon be open for business."

Mr Trump said he would re-evaluate his administration's position on whether to continue restricting business activity at the end of the month, after the lapse of a 15-day guidance the White House issued on March 15 to limit social interactions and curb unnecessary travel.

He suggested it was possible to ease up on businesses in states experiencing what he said were relatively low infection rates, such as Nebraska, Idaho and Iowa, while continuing to clamp down on hot zones in other states, such as New York.

"If it were up to the doctors, they'd say let's shut down the entire world," Mr Trump said.

Since last week, governors in at least 18 states accounting for nearly half the US population have issued directives requiring residents to stay mostly indoors, except for necessary trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and clinics.

"Non-essential" businesses have also been ordered closed.

Washington, which accounts for more than a quarter of the deaths, became the latest state to issue stay-at-home orders.

"This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

"So it is time to hunker down to win this fight." - REUTERS

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