Coronavirus update: Surge in South Korea, cases outside of China stoke new worries

A spike in coronavirus cases outside China is raising new concerns, as the outbreak continued to up the stakes for the global economy and unsettle investors.

New occurrences in South Korea Iran, and other countries have underscored how the disease is becoming more difficult to contain, even as the rates of new infections within China have slowed. On Saturday, Italy reported 2 deaths amid at least 30 infections: Meanwhile, most of the world’s 76,000-plus active cases remain within China as the death toll tops 2,200.

The World Health Organization, which has been working to prevent a global pandemic, has said that China’s quick response to the crisis — including travel restrictions and quarantines — has helped decrease the rate of the spread.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, an agency official said that China’s actions have bought the world more time to respond to the outbreak. Recent reports have suggested Beijing may have dragged its heels for political reasons.

“We should have all prepared weeks ago because we knew this was coming,” Margaret Harris, the WHO’s director of communications, told Yahoo Finance’s “The First Trade” on Friday. Harris added that academics broadly agree that China’s actions have helped inform the global response.

Meanwhile, some experts are worried that the original estimates of an April peak of the virus could soon be obsolete, as the weeks drag on with more cases are confirmed.Former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden, who served under Barack Obama, recently said that was a real risk.

“The odds of containment look vanishingly small, but not (quite) yet zero,” he said.

However, one point of optimism comes from the number of recovered cases, now surpassing 18,000 — or more than 25% of reported cases.

Workers wearing protective gears help clean each other's suits after disinfecting as a precaution against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. South Korea on Friday declared a "special management zone" around a southeastern city where a surging viral outbreak, largely linked to a church in Daegu, threatens to overwhelm the region's health system. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A ‘footnote’ amid whipsaw volatility

This week, markets have been whipsawed by concerns about the virus becoming a pandemic. On Friday, Wall Street tumbled for a second consecutive day, while long-dated Treasury yields sank to a new record low and gold soared to a multi-year peak on safe-haven trading.

In China, car sales plummeted by 92% in the first half of the month, a sharp spike lower from the 18% drop in January, and experts estimate there will be a total 2% shrink in sales this year. The world’s second largest economy has been all but shut down as the mystery virus continues to spread, with multinational companies feeling the pain of supply chain bottlenecks.

Coca-Cola noted it is likely to see an impact from the outbreak, joining a list of companies warning of the same for the end of the first quarter.

Experts believe that while the outbreak piles on to already tense trade relations between the U.S. and China, the former will have a temporary effect.

UBS Global Wealth Management senior equity strategist David Lefkowitz told Yahoo Finance Friday he believes the virus outbreak will eventually be a “footnote in the history books.”

The virus will lead to softening in global growth for 2020, but outside of that, unlikely, he said. Trade tensions have led many big companies to shift away from relying on China — leading to a “decoupling” between the world’s two largest economies, Lefkowitz said.

Meanwhile, despite the slowdown of activity in China, some manufacturing plants have been slowly ramping back up, and world’s largest market reopened Thursday.

‘No clear epidemiological link’

The region around China, including Japan, have seen steady increases in their cases. South Korea’s confirmed cases surged over 400 on Saturday; meanwhile Israel, Lebanon and Iran confirmed their first cases Friday — with the latter reporting 5 deaths as of Saturday.

Israel’s case emerged among the evacuees of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had been quarantined in Japan for the past two weeks.

In a briefing on Friday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday the increase in cases is concerning.

“We’re concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link,” he said.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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