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Coronavirus: Nearly 100,000 COVID-19 cases spark global economy concerns

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The number of people infected with the new virus charged toward 100,000 Friday, with the global scare upending routines, threatening livelihoods and prompting quarantines in its spread.

Asian and European shares were down following a rough day on Wall Street and the consequences of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, were becoming clear to people around the world. Halted travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months to come.

“Who is going to feed their families?” asked Elias al-Arja, the head of a hotel owners’ union in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tourists have been banned and the storied Church of the Nativity shuttered.

The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential of “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.

Across the West, there was a sense of déjà vu as the virus’ spread prompted scenes that already played out in Asia, with workers foregoing offices, vigorous sanitizing in public places and runs on household basics.

Even the spectacle of a cruise ship ordered to stay at sea off the California coast over virus fears replicated ones weeks ago on the other side of the globe.

“The Western world is now following some of China’s playbook,” said Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at the financial firm IG.

Signs of the virus’ shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.

China reported 143 new cases Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago. Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to 1.

The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe — where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases — and beyond.

The second hardest-hit country, South Korea, was also registering a notable decline in new infections and the World Health Organization’s leader said he was seeing “encouraging signs” there.

South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday. The country has touted its “remarkable diagnostic and treatment abilities” but its vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said, “It’s not easy to make predictions about how the situation … would play out.”

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