Two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Britain on Thursday as Europe scrambled to contain the biggest outbreak of the virus outside Asia.

England’s Department of Health said the infection was passed on in Italy and the Spanish holiday island of Tenerife, where a hotel was on lockdown.

The FTSE 100 leading index of the UK’s biggest listed companies has now fallen more than 7% in the past four days, following dips on Wall Street.

Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia has banned travel to Islam’s most revered site just months before the annual Hajj pilgrimage, as measures were put in place to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus into the kingdom.

The decision stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered all public schools to close after this weekend.

The increasingly drastic measures come as the COVID-19 illness continues to spread around the globe, with the first case announced in Latin America on Wednesday with the confirmation a Brazilian man had contracted the illness.

The EU’s health commissioner warned Europe must not “give in to panic”. Yesterday Greece joined a host of other EU states to have confirmed cases within its borders.

While the vast majority of cases and deaths are in mainland China, the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said the number of new COVID-19 cases around the world on Tuesday was 427 compared to 411 inside China, the first time more new cases were confirmed in a day outside of China. The virus has now reached every continent except Antarctica.

Latest developments:

  • More than 78,000 cases confirmed in mainland China, with at least 2,744 deaths
  • Greece, Norway, and North Macedonia have reported their first cases
  • About 40 nations and regions so far have prohibited or restricted South Korean visitors, according to a government official, who described such moves as excessive
  • President Donald Trump declared that the US was “very, very ready” for whatever threat the coronavirus brings. There are at least 60 cases there

More countries confirm cases in Europe

“This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic,” Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner, said in Rome on Wednesday. “We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation as well as xenophobic statements which are misleading citizens and putting in question the work of public authorities.”

The Greek health ministry said a 38-year-old woman in Thessaloniki, who had recently travelled to Italy, tested positive for the virus. People who came in contact with her are voluntarily entering quarantine.

In France, the French health ministry said a 60-year-old local man had died overnight on Tuesday, becoming the first French citizen to die. Previously, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist had died in Paris.

Meanwhile, a COVID-19 patient was reported to be in critical condition in Germany, and authorities in Austria placed an apartment complex in the southern town of Bad Kleinkirchheim under quarantine after the death overnight of a 56-year-old woman from northern Italy.

Drastic measures in the Middle East

On Thursday Saudi Arabia banned foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. It also said travel was suspended to Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina.

Disease outbreaks have always been a concern on the hajj pilgrimage, with people travelling from all over the world to complete the walk which is compulsory for able-bodied Muslims.

Saudi Arabia has taken the measure as its neighbours deal with their own cases of coronavirus. Bahrain confirmed 33 cases as of Thursday morning, while Iran’s president insisted there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities as authorities try to get a handle on the spread of the virus in a country which has so far seen 19 deaths. There are also confirmed cases in neighbouring Oman, Iraq, Kuwait and the UAE.

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