In Depth

The impact of coronavirus on the world - region by region

Rapid spread of infection is striking fear into governments and populations

As new cases of coronavirus outside China exceed those within, countries around the world are preparing for when - not if - it takes hold among their populations.

The disease that originated in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, has now spread to 48 countries and territories, killing at least 2,804 people globally, 2,747 of whom were from mainland China. The number of recorded worldwide cases now stands at 82,183.

In the UK, 35 schools have shut and hundreds of office workers have been affected by office closures. Keen to keep the economy ticking, the government has warned against “overreaction”. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced the government is planning to launch a mass public information campaign, but that it was important to keep the reaction “proportionate”.

US officials also warned on Wednesday that reports that Covid-19 had been generated in a laboratory as a biological weapon were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, while the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned against the use of the term “pandemic”. The word will only be appropriate, said officials, when the disease can no longer be contained.

The only continent yet to be touched by the outbreak is Antarctica.


Italy became the first European country to experience a sizeable Covid-19 outbreak, and in less than a week its known cases have risen from three to 470, making it the third worst-affected country in the world, after China and South Korea.

While the cases in France are much lower, at 18, two people have now died. And on Wednesday, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said that the country was “at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic”, ordering pandemic plans into action. A few cases have now been reported in Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, North Macedonia, Croatia, Norway, Finland and Austria.

In Tenerife, 1,000 hotel guests - including 168 britons - are under quarantine, despite warnings that this could allow the disease to spread unsafely among guests. The Telegraph reports that “Spanish health authorities said they had no idea how many cases they were facing.”

The Middle East

Iran has long been a junction linking Europe and Asia, and business travellers go frequently to and from China, one of the few countries that will trade with it in defiance of US sanctions.

The country’s health ministry has officially recorded 139 infections and 19 deaths - the highest number of fatalities outside China. This would mean a mortality rate of around 13%, which is far above the rate seen anywhere else, leading many to think the real number of infected may be much higher than officially reported.

On Tuesday, the Iranian deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi was diagnosed with Covid-19 after downplaying his visible sickness at a news conference.

Iran’s border with Iraq is long and porous and, while its health system is large and sophisticated, Iraq’s is the opposite. This is the case with a number of the region’s poorer nations. There are concerns that, not only will infections be going unreported, but that when the disease spreads, treatment quality in many countries will be poor.

“Can you believe Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have lower casualties than Iran? It is impossible,” one Iranian official told the Financial Times. “Our neighbours either have business reasons not to disclose their deaths like Turkey and UAE [United Arab Emirates], or do not have the laboratory capability to detect the virus.”

Iraq banned its citizens from travelling to nine countries on Wednesday, including China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.

The UAE, whose airport in Dubai is the world’s busiest in terms of international traffic, cancelled all flights to and from Iran on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the government said it had taken measures to prepare for “worst case scenarios”.

North America

The Trump administration has come under fire for its evisceration - through defunding and firings - of government agencies designed to cope with pandemics, while the president himself, who yesterday announced his vice president Mike Pence would lead the efforts to counter the outbreak, has been accused of understating the risk.

Late on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that a person from California had “contracted the coronavirus without traveling outside the United States or coming in contact with another patient known to have the infection”, reports The Washington Post. This is “the first sign that the disease may be spreading within a local community”, says the newspaper.

The total number of cases in the US has reached 60. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said: “Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

In Canada, where 12 cases have been recorded, health minister Patty Hajdu encouraged Canadians to stockpile food and medication in their homes. “It’s good to be prepared because things can change quickly,” she said.

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South America

The only reported case of the new coronavirus in Latin America was announced yesterday in Brazil, where a 61-year-old man from Sao Paulo, who recently returned from a business trip to Italy, has been diagnosed.

“Officials were scrambling on Wednesday to track down the other passengers on the flight the man took to Brazil and to find others who had contact with him in recent days,” The New York Times reports. “The infection news broke in the midst of Brazil’s Carnival celebrations, popular with foreign visitors.”


East Asia remains the epicentre of the outbreak, even though infection rates in China have slowed, and the country is tentatively beginning to return to normal. Yesterday, 52 deaths were reported in China, the lowest number in three weeks.

There still remains, however, deep distrust of the authorities when it comes to transparency, and while there seems to be signs of improvement, the outbreak is far from over.

“South Korea currently has the largest outbreak outside mainland China,” says CNN. At least 1,595 people have been infected, including the first US soldier, and 13 have died. Nearly two dozen members of South Korea’s military were announced to have been infected on Wednesday.

In Japan, 189 people have Covid-19, and new reports have emerged of a woman being infected for the second time. The country now faces an anxious wait as it struggles to contain the virus ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics. A further 705 cases were recorded on the Diamond Princess ship, quarantined close to Japan.

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Egypt confirmed the first case of Covid-19 in Africa on Valentine’s Day and Algeria has announced one case, but there is skepticism that this is truly the full extent of the infections, as well as concerns about the continent’s vulnerability in the event of a serious outbreak.

“It is highly likely that the under-resourced and unprepared national health systems of Africa cannot detect its presence,” says U.S. News. “And its impact there could be especially devastating.”


There have been 23 cases detected in Australia, and none in New Zealand, with no deaths reported in either. Both are maintaining a travel ban on visitors from the Chinese mainland.

The worldwide figures


S. Korea1,5951324
Singapore93 62
Hong Kong89218
USA60 6
Thailand40 22
Germany27 15
Australia23 15
Malaysia22 20
Vietnam16 16
Spain13 2
U.K.13 8
U.A.E.13 3
Canada12 3
Macao10 6
India3 3
Finland2 1
Russia2 2
Belgium1 1
Cambodia1 1
Egypt1 1
North Macedonia1  
Nepal1 1
Sri Lanka1 1


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