Coronavirus infects US soldier in South Korea as pandemic fears fuel market selloff

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SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) — China and South Korea reported 500 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including the first U.S. soldier to be infected, as the United States warned of an inevitable pandemic and an outbreak in northern Italy spread to several European countries.

Worsening outbreaks in Iran and Italy, along with China and South Korea, are raising the risk of a pandemic and drove Asian shares down on Wednesday, following falls on Wall Street.

In the past four trading sessions about $3 trillion has been wiped off the value of the MSCI World, a market cap weighted stock market index of 1,644 stocks globally.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention principal deputy director, said that while the immediate risk in the United States was low, the current global situation suggested a pandemic was likely.

“It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when and how many people will be infected,” Schuchat said on Tuesday. The United States has reported 57 cases of the virus.

The disease is believed to have originated from a wildlife market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 people, the vast majority in China.

China’s National Health Commission reported another 406 new infections on Wednesday, down from 508 cases a day earlier and bringing the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 78,064.

The death toll in mainland China rose by 52 with another 406 confirmed cases.

South Korea, which has the most virus cases outside China, reported 169 new infections including the U.S. soldier, as authorities readied an ambitious plan to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the center of the outbreak.

Of the new cases, 134 were from Daegu city, where the virus is believed to have been passed among members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said.

The U.S. military reported its first case of the coronavirus, in a 23-year-old soldier based in Camp Carroll, about 20 km (12.4 miles) from Daegu. The camp is also near a disability center that has had its own outbreak of the virus.

Japan’s northern Hokkaido island will close all public elementary and junior high schools for a few days starting from Thursday, Kyodo news agency reported. Hokkaido has 35 virus cases — the highest number outside Tokyo.

Japan has 164 virus cases and 691 on a quarantined cruise ship docked south of Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday called for sports and cultural events to be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks as the country battles to stem coronavirus contagion amid mounting concerns the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be canceled.

Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants baseball team will play two preseason games in an empty stadium.

Officials have said the Olympics are going ahead and have told the International Olympic Committee that preparations are continuing.

But Tokyo has been forced to postpone training for volunteers and restrict large-scale events, such as the Tokyo Marathon which has been limited to elite athletes.