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Trump says US can avoid major epidemic as virus spreads

President Donald Trump has played down fears of a major coronavirus outbreak in the United States, even as infections ricochet around the world, prompting a ban on pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

China is no longer the only breeding ground for the deadly virus as countries fret over possible contagion coming from other hotbeds of infection, including Iran, South Korea and Italy.

There are now more daily cases being recorded outside China than inside the country, where the virus first emerged in December, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 2,700 people have died in China and some 78,000 have been infected. There have been more than 50 deaths and 3,600 cases in dozens of other countries.

“I think that there’s a chance that it could get worse, a chance it could get fairly substantially worse, but nothing’s inevitable,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

His comments contradicted US health officials who urged Americans to be ready to cancel mass gatherings and work from home. There are 60 cases in the US so far.

Following Trump’s upbeat assessment, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said it had detected the first case of unknown origin in the country, signaling that the virus may be spreading within communities.

The US and other countries are also bracing for more cases to be imported from abroad.

Several governments have advised against travel to Italy — which has 400 cases and 12 deaths. Iran’s neighbors have shut their borders, while Mongolia has suspended flights from South Korea and Japan.

Trump said his country was considering travel restrictions on Italy and South Korea, which has almost 1,600 cases, the highest number outside China. The US already restricts arrivals from China.

Even China — which quarantined an entire province and shut down cities across the country to contain the virus — is now worried about importing cases as it mulls its own travel restrictions.

Beijing has ordered people arriving in the capital from countries hit by the virus to go into 14-day self-quarantine.

– Infections outside China –

The virus is believed to have originated in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where it hopped from an animal to a human before spreading across the country and proliferating abroad.

China reported 29 more deaths Thursday — its lowest daily tally since January — and 433 new cases, most of them in hard-hit Hubei province and well below massive increases from just a week ago.

But other countries have become sources of concern.

AFP

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