coronavirus

Concern Grows as South Korea Nears 1,000 Virus Cases

South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 893 and has had a near 15-fold increase in reported infections in a week

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China and South Korea on Tuesday reported more cases of a new viral illness that has been concentrated in North Asia but is creating worrisome, increasing clusters in the Middle East and Europe.

China reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic began in December. The updates bring mainland China's totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.

South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 977 and has had a near 15-fold increase in reported infections in a week, as health workers continue to find batches in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas, where panic has brought towns to an eerie standstill.

Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

Source: NBC News, staff reports

Of the 60 new cases reported by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 came from Daegu and the surrounding areas of North Gyeongsang province.

The country also reported its eighth, ninth and tenth fatalities from COVID-19, including a man who had links to a hospital in Cheongdo, where a slew of infections has been reported among patients at a mental ward.

Korean Air, the country's biggest airline, said one of its cabin crew members tested positive for the virus, but it didn't immediately disclose details about the flights or routes the employee worked.

Speaking to a news conference in Geneva, Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO had received reports of 694 cases from 25 countries and 3 deaths. He said as more data comes in from China, officials are beginning to understand the outbreak and "how it's developing and where it could be headed."
Speaking to a news conference in Geneva, Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO had received reports of 694 cases from 25 countries and 3 deaths. He said as more data comes in from China, officials are beginning to understand the outbreak and "how it's developing and where it could be headed."

The government has vowed to full mobilized public health tools to contain the outbreak to the region surrounding Daegu, but says it isn’t considering restricting travel. All Daegu citizens exhibiting cold-like symptoms, estimating around 30,000 people, will be tested for the virus. The country is also restricting exports to deal with nationwide shortages in masks.

Health authorities expected by Wednesday to finish testing some 1,300 members of the Daegu branch of the Shincheonjin Church of Jesus who have exhibited symptoms, before expanding the tests.

The church, which has South Korea's biggest cluster of infections, has agreed to provide authorities a list of all of its 200,000 members nationwide so they could be screened, which could take months.

"It’s a matter of speed and time — we must create a clear turning point within this week (to stem) the increase in confirmed cases," South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a visit to Daegu City Hall. He promised "pan-national" support, including active employment of military, police and civilian resources, to combat the outbreak.

South Korea's cases now outnumber those reported by Japan, where the virus infected almost one-fifth of the passengers and crew on a cruise ship.

About 200 South Korean tourists on Tuesday returned home on a chartered flight arranged by Israel, which decided to send them back over virus concerns.

As coronavirus continues to spread, lawmakers question why the Trump administration has not asked for emergency funds to fight the deadly disease, and instead proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control budget. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday advised Americans to "avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea" in its highest travel alert notice. Japan's Foreign Ministry urged citizens to avoid unessential trips to Daegu and North Gyeongsang province.

Clusters have also emerged in Iran and Italy, and there are concerns that the new outbreaks could signal a serious new stage in the global spread of the illness.

Schools were closed in Iran for a second day, and daily sanitizing of public buses and the Tehran metro, which is used by some 3 million people, was begun.

Blushing brides-to-be could find a snarl in their wedding plans this wedding season — the coronavirus outbreak in China has halted production of gowns and suits as factories close to mitigate the spread of the virus. Bridal boutiques say dresses may not be able to ship out until the middle of summer.

In several countries that reported their first cases on Monday — Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, the infected patients had links with Iran. Iraq and Afghanistan closed their borders with Iran in an effort to stop the further spread.

In Italy, where 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns as worries grew across the continent.

Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy. Slovenia and Croatia, popular getaways for Italians, were holding crisis meetings. Schools were closed, theater performances were canceled and even Carnival celebrations in Venice were called off.

As outbreaks grew in more countries, the World Heath Organization said COVID-19 had the potential to be a pandemic but wasn't one yet.

"The past few weeks has demonstrated just how quickly a new virus can spread around the world and cause widespread fear and disruption," WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

But "for the moment we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus," he said.

The virus, which causes the COVID-19 illness, has infected more than 79,000 people globally, and caused more than 2,600 deaths, most of them in China.

China still has most of the world's cases and deaths from the COVID-19 illness. On Monday, it postponed its most important political meetings of the year, indicating the importance President Xi Jinping places on the battle against the epidemic that has posed one of his biggest political challenges since he took control of the ruling Communist Party in 2012.

The annual meetings of the National People's Congress and its chief advisory body usually begin about March 5 and run for more than two weeks, bringing thousands of delegates to Beijing for discussions, speeches and political ceremony. State media noted that many of those delegates are provincial and local leaders fighting on the disease's front lines.

In South Korea, start of the new school year has been delayed and companies are telling employees to work from home. People who recently visited Daegu and nearby areas were advised to stay at home if possible for two weeks.

China's death toll from the new virus outbreak has topped 900 deaths, surpassing the number of people killed in the SARS epidemic two decades ago. The Chinese government is taking strict measures to keep the coronavirus from spreading, but is drawing criticism in the process.

South Korea's professional basketball league said it will ban spectators until the outbreak is under control. Busan City said the world team table tennis championships it planned to host in March were postponed to June.

South Korea’s military has confirmed 13 troops have the virus, resulting in quarantines for many other troops and halting field training. The United States Forces Korea says a 61-year-old widow of a retired soldier living in Daegu tested positive, the first infection among individuals related to U.S. troops in South Korea.

The allies are considering curtailing joint military exercises due to the outbreak.

Regular surgical face masks are not effective in protecting against the coronavirus. A more specialized face mask known as N95 respirators are thicker than surgical masks and are fitted to a person’s face to keep out any viral particles.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told reporters in Washington the virus was a threat to their schedule of annual exercises.

Esper said he was confident they would find a way to protect troops while also ensuring both countries were ready to face potential threats.

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