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First US death from COVID-19 confirmed in Washington state

The first death from the novel coronavirus has been confirmed on US soil, in Washington state, health officials said Saturday, after a handful of cases of unknown origin were detected, indicating the disease was spreading in the country.

First US death from COVID-19 confirmed in Washington state

A woman wears a mask on Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Feb 28, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

WASHINGTON: A Washington state man in his 50s with underlying health issues became the United States' first fatality from the coronavirus, officials said on Saturday (Feb 29), as the Trump administration stepped up efforts to combat the spread of the global outbreak.

The patient, who was chronically ill prior to contracting COVID-19, died at EvergreenHealth Hospital in Kirkland, near Seattle, and officials are unsure how he was exposed to the virus, said Jeffrey Duchin, head of the Washington health department's communicable disease unit.

President Donald Trump urged Americans not to panic over the novel coronavirus after the death was confirmed.

The virus has now hit 61 countries across the globe, prompting the World Health Organization to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.

Explore: Real-time interactive map of all the confirmed cases reported around the world

Worldwide, more than 2,900 people have been killed and nearly 86,000 infected since it was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Its rapid spread beyond China's borders in the past week has caused stock markets to sink to their lowest levels since the 2008 global financial crisis over fears the disease could wreak havoc on the world economy.

But global attention shifted Saturday to the United States, after authorities in the West Coast state of Washington confirmed the first fatality on American soil - and President Donald Trump hastily called a press conference to address fears.

'NO REASON TO PANIC': TRUMP

"We've taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus," Trump told reporters at the White House.

"Our country is prepared for any circumstance. (...) There is no reason to panic at all."

The fatality occurred in Washington state's King county, which includes Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, health officials said.

US President Donald Trump says there is "no reason to panic" over the novel coronavirus AFP/Roberto SCHMIDT

Trump said the number of cases detected by the US public health system now stood at 22. Combined with patients who were repatriated from abroad, the overall number of infected on US soil is now about 70.

"We will see more cases," Health Secretary Alex Azar told the press conference.

"But it's important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms."

Their treatment will be to remain at home and treat the symptoms as they would the flu, he added.

The president and other officials also announced a more complete ban on travel from Iran, which has seen a rapid spread of the disease, and encouraged Americans to avoid travel to hard-hit areas in Italy and South Korea.

Vice President Mike Pence, charged by Trump to lead efforts against the virus, said that an existing ban on travel from Iran had been expanded to include any foreign national who has visited the Islamic republic within the last 14 days.

Trump also said the United States was ready to assist Iran with its coronavirus outbreak and that "all they have to do is ask."

The first US coronavirus death capped a week of stock market upheaval and escalating concern among state and federal health officials.

Most of the US cases have occurred in travellers who were repatriated from China, where the virus originated.

But public health officials have also identified coronavirus cases in California, Washington and Oregon with no direct ties to the virus' source in China, signalling a turning point in strategies needed to contain the disease in the United States.

US health authorities say it means the respiratory disease that has infected nearly 80,000 people and killed more than 2,800 in China is no longer an imported phenomenon but has taken up residence in the United States.

"We still judge the general risk to the American public to be low and that includes residents of long-term care facilities," said Nancy Messonier, head of the Immunization and Respiratory Disease division at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Messonnier told reporters in a call on Saturday that the agency would send teams to support investigations in California and Washington into how patients contracted the virus and help trace who else may have been exposed.

READ: New York scrambles to replace US government's faulty coronavirus test kits

READ: US urges citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Italy over COVID-19

With the virus spreading quickly in some countries, France on Saturday cancelled all gatherings of 5,000 people or more in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

France's latest restrictions came after 16 new cases were confirmed Saturday, bringing the country's total to 73.

Sunday's Paris half-marathon and an agricultural symposium were among the events hit.

South Korea, which has the most infected people outside China, reported its biggest surge in new cases on Saturday with 813 more patients confirmed, bringing its total to 3,150.

Italy, the hotspot of the outbreak in Europe, also reported a jump in new cases on Saturday, with its number of infections exceeding 1,000 and the death toll jumping by eight to 29.

Two woman walk past deserted restaurants and a near empty Piazza della Scala on February 29, 2020 in the center of Milan. (Photo: AFP/Miguel Medina)

In recent days, the epidemic spread to sub-Saharan Africa, and Qatar and Ecuador both confirmed their first cases on Saturday.

CHINESE ECONOMY HIT

Official data released in China on Saturday showed the extent of the damage caused to the world's second-largest economy, with manufacturing activity falling to its lowest level on record as key industries ground to a standstill under drastic containment measures.

China's National Bureau of Statistics said the auto and specialised equipment industries were hit hard.

Authorities in China have taken drastic steps to contain the virus, curbing the movement of people, temporarily closing factories across the country and quarantining central Hubei province, a key industrial region where the epidemic first appeared in December.

More global events have been disrupted due to the epidemic, with the United States delaying a regional summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations due in Las Vegas next month.

"This is not a time for panic. It is time to be prepared - fully prepared," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of novel coronavirus and its developments

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Source: AGENCIES/ec

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