Concern over coronavirus spread as cases jump in South Korea, Italy & Iran
SEOUL/SHANGHAI: International concern about the spread of coronavirus outside China grew on Sunday with sharp rises in infections in South Korea, Italy and Iran.
The government in Seoul put the country on high alert after the number of infections surged over 600 with six deaths. A focal point was a church in the southeastern city of Daegu, where a 61-year-old member of the congregation with no recent record of overseas travel tested positive for the virus.
In Italy, the number of cases jumped to above 130 from just three before Friday. Authorities sealed off the worst affected towns and banned public gatherings in much of the north, including halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases, to try to contain the biggest outbreak in Europe.
Italian health authorities were struggling to find out how the virus started. “If we cannot find ‘patient zero’ then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous than we thought,” said Luca Zaia, the regional governor of the wealthy Veneto region.
Iran, which announced its first two cases on Wednesday, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths, with most of the infections in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom.
China, which has seen the vast majority of cases, reported 648 new infections. But only 18 were outside of Hubei province, the lowest number outside the epicenter since authorities began publishing data a month ago and locked down large parts of the country.
“At present, the epidemic situation is still severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage,” President Xi Jinping said.
State run television urged people to avoid complacency, drawing attention to people gathering in public areas and tourist spots without wearing masks.
In South Korea, Catholic churches in Daegu and Gwangju have suspended services and other gatherings, while churches elsewhere saw declines in attendance on Sunday, especially among the elderly.
“If the situation gets worse, I think we’ll need to take more measures,” said Song Gi-young, 53, wearing a face mask at church.
Heo Young-moo, 88, expressed frustration.
“Devotees shouldn’t go to any risky places … Hasn’t it become so widespread because those people didn’t get checked?”,” he said.
South Korea’s president said raising the disease alert to the highest level allowed authorities to send extra resources to Daegu city and Cheongdo county, which were designated “special care zones” on Friday.
It also enables the government to forcibly prevent public activities and order the temporary closure of schools, the Yonhap News Agency said, although the government gave no immediate details on what steps could be taken.
Health officials reported 169 new infections, bringing the total to 602.
Concern about the reach of the coronavirus also grew in Europe and the Middle East.
The European Union said it had confidence in the Italian authorities. “We share concern for possible contagion (but) there is no need to panic,” the bloc’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.
Iran reported a total of 43 infections, with eight deaths – all since Tuesday. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on Iran. – Reuters