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Untraceable coronavirus clusters emerge outside Asia, worrying health officials
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In South Korea, Singapore and Iran, clusters of infections are leading to a jump in cases of the new viral illness outside China. But it’s not the numbers that are worrying experts: It's that increasingly they can't trace where the clusters started.
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World Health Organization officials said China's crackdown on parts of the country bought time for the rest of the world to prepare for the new virus. But as hot spots emerge around the globe, trouble finding each source — the first patient who sparks every new cluster — might signal the disease has begun spreading too widely for tried-and-true public health steps to stamp it out.
“A number of spot fires, occurring around the world is a sign that things are ticking along, and what we are going to have here is probably a pandemic,” said Ian Mackay, who studies viruses at Australia's University of Queensland.
The outbreak will also rock the Chinese economy and send shockwaves to the U.S. and the rest of the world, an economist nicknamed Dr. Doom for his dire, but accurate, predictions said. The virus has already led to the lockdown of more than 60 million people and caused scores of companies to temporarily shutter or reduce operations in the country, bringing the world’s second-largest economy to a grinding halt.
“The economic damage done to China implies that China cannot grow more than 4 percent this year," Nouriel Roubini, CEO at Roubini Macro Associates, said on “WSJ at Large” with Gerry Baker. "The transmission through trade and other channels is going to be seen across the world.
That worst-case isn't here yet, the WHO insists. It isn't convinced that countries outside China need more draconian measures, but it pointed to spikes in cases in Iran and South Korea to warn that time may be running out to contain the virus.
“What we see is a very different phase of this outbreak depending where you look,” said WHO's Dr. Sylvie Briand. “We see different patterns of transmission in different places.”