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Coronavirus cases hit 100,000 as cruise ship fears grow

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Beijing (AFP)

The number of cases from the new coronavirus topped 100,000 worldwide as the US battled to contain an outbreak on board a stranded cruise ship where 21 people have tested positive.

The World Health Organization called the spread of the virus "deeply concerning" as a wave of countries reported their first cases of the disease -- which has now killed nearly 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 92 nations.

Twenty-one people onboard a cruise ship stranded off the coast of San Francisco have tested positive for the virus, including 19 crew members and two passengers, after the California National Guard flew test kits out to the ship earlier this week.

The Grand Princess has been stranded off San Francisco since Wednesday -- when it was supposed to dock -- after it emerged that two people who had been on the ship during its previous voyage had contracted the virus. One later died.

US Vice President Mike Pence said the ship will be brought to a non-commercial dock this weekend and all 3,533 passengers and crew will be tested.

The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, the same company which operated the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month on which more than 700 people on board tested positive.

Health authorities in Egypt also reported 12 new cases among workers aboard a Nile cruise boat.

- Global spread -

The World Health Organization has urged "that all countries make containment their highest priority," director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

The influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a US pro-Israel lobby group, said Friday that two people who attended its annual Washington conference -- alongside dozens of lawmakers -- had tested positive for coronavirus.

Slovakia, Serbia, the Vatican, Peru, Cameroon and Togo all reported their first cases on Friday while the Netherlands recorded its first death.

Cameroon is the first central African country to register a case of the deadly virus.

In China -- where the virus first emerged late last year -- the number of new cases reported Saturday nationwide was the lowest in weeks.

The Chinese government has hinted it may soon lift the quarantine imposed on Hubei province -- the locked-down epicentre where some 56 million people have been effectively housebound since late January.

For the second consecutive day, there were no new cases reported in Hubei outside Wuhan, the province's capital.

But the number of cases outside the epicentre rose for a third consecutive day, fuelling fears about imported cases being brought into the country from overseas.

There have now been 60 confirmed imported cases brought into the country.

- Cancellations and controls -

The epidemic has wreaked havoc on international business, tourism, and sports events, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide as schools and universities close.

The number of international tourist arrivals is expected to drop sharply this year due to the virus, the World Tourism Organization said Friday, reversing a previous forecast for a substantial increase.

The South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas and the Ultra electronic dance festival in Miami were among the latest events to be cancelled as scrutiny grows on events that draw large crowds.

In India, the world's biggest film industry called off its equivalent of the Oscars that had been set for the end of the month.

The holy city of Bethlehem was in lockdown after the first Palestinian cases of the deadly coronavirus were discovered there Friday, leaving tourists scrambling to find a way out.

Meanwhile, in another measure to limit contagion during religious gatherings, Saudi Arabia emptied Islam's holiest site in Mecca to sterilise it.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, the authorities urged the over-65s to avoid travelling at peak hours and banned meetings of more than 150 people.

Stock markets and oil prices have collapsed as investors panic over the expected devastating damage of the coronavirus to global economic growth.

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