THERE’S a definite whiff of panic as the global scale of the coronavirus outbreak becomes clear and efforts to control it are having mixed success. With cases being reported in many new countries for the first time and international markets suffering their worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis, there is a worrying sense that the impact of the virus is still to hit full force.

In the Far East, the epicentre in China has widened, especially to South Korea and Japan, and public health measures are having a huge effect on public opinion. As of Monday, all of Japan’s schools will be closed for a month, causing havoc for working parents wondering how they will manage childcare arrangements for such a length of time.

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With only a few months to go until the Olympic Games are set to start in Japan, organisers are considering what to do with the torch relay, which is supposed to make its way to 859 municipalities over the course of 121 days. With eight people already having died in Japan, the fear is that large scale public events will only heighten the risk of transmission and spread of the virus.

The National: Fourteen schools in the UK have now closed in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)

In South Korea, nearly 300 new cases have been reported, taking the total to more than 2000. Four large concerts by the hugely popular K-pop band BTS have been cancelled. Special exemptions to international sanctions have been secured by the World Health Organisation to deliver medical equipment to neighbouring North Korea. The isolated Stalinist state has quarantined hundreds of members of the international community in Pyongyang, but even North Korea has regular visitors, especially from neighbouring China.

In the Middle East, Iran cancelled Friday prayers in major cities, which, given their importance in the Muslim faith, is a sign of the seriousness of the outbreak there, which has been centred in the holy city of Qom.

Saudi Arabia has stopped pilgrims from visiting the country to go to the holy sites at Mecca and Medina.

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In the United Arab Emirates, the final stages of the 2020 cycling tour have been cancelled after two participants from Italy tested positive. Other riders are now being tested, including the English cycling star Chris Froome.

Since Wednesday this week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that the virus is spreading faster outside China, where it originally started. In Europe’s outbreak epicentre Italy, more than 500 people are now infected and 14 have died.

The National: Coronavirus Outbreak

In one 24-hour period there was a 25% increase in cases. In a dramatic on-screen media moment, the governor of the virus-hit Lombardy region Attilio Fontana put on a face mask, confirming that one of his colleagues had tested positive and he was putting himself in self-isolation.

Foreign minister Luigi Di Maio warned that the country was facing an “infodemic” as international media reports were having a negative impact on the Italian economy and tourism.

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New cases have been reported in Lagos, Nigeria, the first in sub-saharan Africa, and in New Zealand with a passenger who returned from Iran. First cases have been reported in the Netherlands, Lithuania and Belarus. Around the world, there are now known to be more than 80,000 cases of infection reported from more than 40 countries. Nearly 3000 people are known to have died.

This last week has seen the most sustained falls on international stock markets since the global crash, with declines reported totalling 10%. Analysts are warning that the economic damage of coronavirus might be more significant than originally expected.

The National: A health worker wears a protective suit at the infectious disease clinic in Zagreb, where the first coronavirus case in Croatia is being treated

With more cases reported this week in England and the first in Northern Ireland, it is highly likely that Scotland will face its first case at some point soon. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired a key Scottish Government resilience meeting, and Health Secretary

Jeane Freeman confirmed that plans are advanced to contain the virus here, but she was “expecting an outbreak”.

It’s worth bearing in mind that at present there are more deaths through common influenza than there are from coronavirus. But if there are any cases here, or even an outbreak as is becoming increasingly common elsewhere, it won’t take long before measures will be needed to restrict public gatherings and self-isolation to control the spread.

People are already discussing the options for home-working to protect themselves and colleagues in such a circumstance.

The WHO believes the fight against the disease is at a “decisive point” but warned against unnecessary panic. The head of the WHO Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives.”

This seems like the most sensible advice of all. We are fortunate not to have had any coronavirus cases in Scotland yet, but they may well come sooner than we might fear.