* China may have saved hundreds of thousands of cases-WHO
* Beijing reports zero new cases
* Investors flee to safety as virus spreads outside China
Italy, South Korea and Iran reported sharp rises in coronavirus cases on Monday, but China eased curbs as the rate of infection there slowed and a visiting World Health Organization team said a turning point had been reached in the epicentre, Wuhan.
The virus has put Chinese cities into lockdown in recent weeks, disrupted air traffic to the workshop of the world and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars and car parts to smartphones.
But China's actions, especially in Wuhan, had probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, said the head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast.
"The world is in your debt," Aylward, speaking in Beijing, told the people of Wuhan. "The people of that city have gone through an extraordinary period and they're still going through it."
The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global share markets as investors fled to safe havens. European share markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high, oil tumbled nearly 5% and the Korean won fell to its lowest level since August.
Wall Street dived around 3% after it opened as the ugly sell-off spread. Italian shares tumbled nearly 5%.
But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the global economy or supply chains, saying it was simply too soon to know.
The WHO's Aylward said multiple data sources all suggested that the rate of infection in Wuhan was falling: "They're at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in."
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that using the word "pandemic" did not fit the facts. "We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic," he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.
Liang Wannian of China's National Health Commission said only that the rapid rise had been halted and the situation was still grim. He said over 3,000 medical staff had become infected, most in Hubei province surrounding Wuhan, probably due to the lack of protective gear and to fatigue.
Excluding Hubei, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide daily figures on Jan. 20.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most of them in Hubei.
Overall, China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.
But there was a measure of relief for the world's second-largest economy as more than 20 province-level jurisdictions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero new infections.
Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to some 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.
South Korea reported 231 new cases, taking its total to 833. Many are in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, which became more isolated with Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspending flights there until next month.
Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq recorded their first new coronavirus cases, all people who had been in Iran, where the toll was 12 dead and 61 infected. Most of the infections were in the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom.
A WHO team is due in Iran on Tuesday.
Europe's biggest outbreak is in Italy, with some 150 infections - compared with just three before Friday - and a sixth death.
In northern Italy, authorities sealed off the worst-affected towns and banned public gatherings across a wide area, halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.
The outbreak originated in Codogno, a small town southeast of Milan where Lombardy's first infected patient, a 38-year-old man now in stable condition, was treated.
Austria briefly suspended train services through the Alps from Italy after two travellers coming from Italy showed symptoms of fever. Both tested negative.
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged businesses to get back to work, though he said the epidemic was still "severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage".
Mnuchin told Reuters in the Saudi city of Riyadh that he did not expect the epidemic to have a material impact on the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal.
The Washington Post, citing three unnamed people briefed on the plan, said the White House could request close to $1 billion from U.S. lawmakers to help boost the nation's response to the coronavirus. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters: "I'm not going to get into an announcement on what we're going to take to Congress but the fact is that we have aggressively worked to combat the spread of this virus..."
Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo.
In South Korea, drone footage showed what appeared to be hundreds of people queuing in a neat line outside a Daegu supermarket to buy face masks.
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