Coronavirus increases Iran’s isolation, strains South Korea and Italy
Iranian deputy health minister, lawmaker test positive for coronavirus as death toll climbs to 16
DUBAI/BEIJING: Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the highest outside China, increasing its international isolation as dozens of countries from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the epidemic’s global spread.
Believed to come from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed 2,663 in China. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says the epidemic there has peaked and has been declining since Feb. 2.
Beyond mainland China, however, it has jumped to about 29 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths, according to a Reuters tally. Growing outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea are of particular concern.
“We are close to a pandemic but there is still hope,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of a biosecurity program at the University of New South Wales, using the term for a widespread global epidemic.
Global stocks sank to their lowest levels in over two months on Tuesday in anxiety over the coronavirus’ spread and its damage to the world economy.
Iran’s outbreak, amid mounting U.S. sanctions pressure, threatens to leave it further cut off. Several countries suspended flights due to cases in travelers from Iran to Canada, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
Some neighbors also closed borders, while Oman’s Khasab port halted imports and exports with Iran.
The deputy health minister was among those infected.
Iran canceled concerts and soccer matches nationwide, and schools and universities closed in many provinces. Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts.
Authorities say U.S. sanctions are hampering its response to the coronavirus by preventing imports of masks and medicines.
CHURCH UNDER SCRUTINY
South Korea has the most virus cases outside China, with 977 infections and 10 deaths, the majority linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu, where the outbreak is believed to have begun with a 61-year-old woman.
Authorities were to test all members of the church, estimated by media at about 215,000 people. President Moon Jae-in acknowledged the situation was “very grave”.
In Europe, Italy is the front line, with more than 280 cases and seven deaths, most in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions but one case emerging in Sicily, the first in the country south of Rome.
A planned three-week shoot in Italy for Tom Cruise’s seventh outing in the “Mission: Impossible” series was also postponed, while Milan cathedral was closed and Venice carnival canceled.
Airlines began restricting flights to Italy, while prices for masks and gels skyrocketed.
Eurasia consultancy’s Scott Rosenstein said the bad news from Iran, South Korea and Italy had undercut confidence sustained human-to-human transmission can be limited to China.
“This worsening narrative around disease containment has overshadowed the cautious optimism narrative coming out of China,” he said. “Markets have responded accordingly.”
Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran. - Reuters