Iran cases surge, new Malaysia, Singapore infections: Virus update
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Iran cases surge, new Malaysia, Singapore infections: Virus update

A woman wearing a facemask amid fears of the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus walks past a poster for the new James Bond movie
A woman wearing a facemask amid fears of the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus walks past a poster for the new James Bond movie "No Time to Die" in Bangkok on Saturday. (AFP photo)

Four new infections were reported in Malaysia and Singapore after Thailand, the United States and Australia recorded their first deaths caused by the coronavirus and cases in Iran and South Korea jumped by 376 but the number of new deaths fell in the epicentre of Hubei, China.

Iran reported another surge in coronavirus cases and 11 more deaths as the World Health Organization prepared to send a larger team to the country. Equity markets across the Middle East slumped.

The WHO chief said the window is narrowing to contain the virus as it spread further and the US, Australia and Thailand reported their first fatalities.

The WHO chief said the window is narrowing to contain the virus as it spread further and the US, Australia and Thailand reported their first fatalities.

There’s no need for fear and panic in the markets, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the world body, said in Riyadh Sunday. While countries need to prepare for a pandemic, facts show there’s no such threat yet, he said. “We shouldn’t abandon the containment strategy because we see it’s working in some countries.”

Key Developments

- Thailand reports first death from infection
- Iran infections almost double; cases in Spain jump
- South Korea added 586 cases, taking total to 3,736 with 18 deaths
- First US death confirmed in Washington State as governor declares emergency
- Australia’s first virus death as man returns from Diamond Princess
- China reported 35 new deaths -- the lowest in three days

Middle Eastern stocks plunge as virus spreads 

Equity markets across the Middle East slumped as more cases of the coronavirus were announced in the region. The number of infections soared in Iran, Qatar announced its first case and the United Arab Emirates shut down nurseries and cancelled several events.

Carmaking in Hubei may restart on March 11 

PSA Group, the maker of Peugeot cars, has been told by Chinese authorities that the company will be able to restart industrial activities in the Hubei province from March 11, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares said on LCI television Sunday.

Norway sees challenging situation 

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned on Sunday of a potentially “challenging situation” in the weeks ahead in the Nordic country, which has so far had 17 confirmed cases according to local media, including three hospital employees in Oslo. Health services are “well prepared” and Norwegians should act as normally as possible to limit the impact of the outbreak, including on the economy, she said in a speech to the leadership of her Conservative Party.

Singapore reports four new infections 

Singapore confirmed on Sunday it has four more cases of the virus, bringing the total number to 106.

Japan cruise passengers leave ship 

All the remaining passengers and workers on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan’s Yokohama harbour have disembarked, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters in Tokyo on Sunday. About 700 of some 3,700 passengers and crew who were on Carnival Corp’s Diamond Princess were infected with the coronavirus and there were at least seven fatalities.

Malaysia reports new cases 

An employee at Khazanah Nasional Bhd was diagnosed with the coronavirus and is now at a government hospital, the Malaysian state investment fund said in a statement. The fund has canceled a Monday press briefing for its annual results. Malaysia has a total of 29 cases, with four new ones reported on Sunday, according to the health ministry.

Nigeria traces contacts of first case 

Nigerian health authorities have reached out to more than 100 people who had contact with the Italian man who tested positive for the coronavirus and asked them to remain in self-isolation for 14 days. Lafarge Africa Plc said it has quarantined 39 people who had been in contact with the man, who was a vendor for the company.

Iran cases almost double 

Iran, the epicentre of coronavirus in the Middle East, said the number of confirmed cases almost doubled to 978, with 54 deaths so far. In the capital Tehran alone, there were 170 new infections.

Spain reports jump in new cases 

The total number of cases in Spain rose to 73 from 46 on Saturday, Fernando Simon, the head of the the country’s health emergency centre, said in a news conference.

There is no need to raise the country’s alert level for now, Simon said. About 90% of the cases have links to risk areas such as Italy, but health officials are also paying closer attention to areas with infections including Malaga and Marbella and the town of Torrejon near Madrid, he said.

Switzerland to recommend avoiding kissing 

Switzerland’s federal government will provide new recommendations on coronavirus in the coming days. It will advise people to avoid shaking hands and greeting each other with kisses and recommend that companies allow people to work from home, newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Georgia closes schools; Armenia gets first case 

Georgia ordered schools and universities to close until March 16 and urged its citizens to avoid traveling to countries with coronavirus outbreaks. Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of the Caucasus nation’s disease control centre, told reporters in the capital Tbilisi that more than 100 people are under observation in quarantine.

Armenia recorded its first coronavirus case on Sunday, a 29-year-old man who returned from Iran with his wife the previous day, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.

UK defends response, won’t rule anything out 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK government wouldn’t rule out forcibly quarantining people or closing off entire cities, while defending the country’s response and saying that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “all over this”.

“There’s clearly a huge economic and social downside to that, but we don’t take anything off the table at this stage,” Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr in an interview.

Thailand records first death

Thailand has recorded its first coronavirus death. The 35-year-old male retail worker had dengue fever and the new disease known as Covid-19, Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, director general of the Department of Disease Control, said in a briefing Sunday.

The health ministry is still looking into the role played by the coronavirus in the fatality, Dr Suwannachai said.

Tests for the coronavirus came back negative since Feb 16 but “the damage was already done to his body” from the earlier bout of infection by the new disease, said Tawee Chotpitayasunondh, adviser to the Department of Disease Control.

Thailand has reported 42 cases of infection, with 30 of those discharged.

Interactive world map (may not show latest figures):

South Korea Asks US for Restraint 

South Korea urged the US to “refrain from taking excessive measures” after the State Department raised its travel advisory on the Korean city of Daegu, where most of the nation’s novel coronavirus cases are centred.

Italy may spend $4 billion on crisis 

Italy plans to spend 3.6 billion euros ($4 billion) on the coronavirus crisis, Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri told La Repubblica in an interview.

Separately, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wants to boost the nation’s budget deficit to pay for emergency measures to keep Italy’s economy afloat as it faces a coronavirus outbreak, he told the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano in an interview.

The higher deficit would require parliamentary approval and would be done “in accord with the European authorities,” he said. The proposed boost is part of a second round of measures Conte’s government is drafting to help businesses and mitigate the economic impact of the outbreak in which Italy has more than 1,000 confirmed infections.

South Africa to quarantine citizens 

South Africa will quarantine dozens of citizens who’ve asked to be repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. About 150 of 201 South Africans living in the area have asked to return and will face a 21-day quarantine.

Emirates offers leave to staff 

Emirates Group, which runs the world’s biggest airline by international traffic, is encouraging staff to take paid or unpaid leave as the coronavirus outbreak slows demand for travel. Emirates halted most flights to China and suspended operations to Iran, the epicentres of the coronavirus. It stopped flying tourists from more than 20 countries to Saudi Arabia, the carrier’s biggest market in the Middle East.

What WHO’s Tedros said in Riyadh 

Europe and some developed countries may have some surprises like Italy, but at the same time they have strong institutions that can respond quickly, he said. Those panicking should calm down and try to see reality, he said.

Macau gaming revenue plunges by record 

Casinos in the Chinese territory -- the world’s biggest gambling hub -- reported an 88% drop in gaming revenue in February as they grappled with cost of closing down their businesses for 15 days to help contain the spread of the disease.

NYC gets CDC OK for virus testing 

New York City won US approval to develop its own coronavirus test and the federal government also sent new kits that will let the city perform tests without sending samples to a federal lab, Mayor Bill De Blasio said Saturday.

“We will soon, within the coming week, have the ability to get results back in a matter of hours, not days,” De Blasio said in a statement. The city had asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “for weeks” for new test kits to speed the process of identifying virus cases.

No trading, but still a lot of bad news 

The bad news didn’t stop when markets closed on Friday. The first US death. A possible outbreak in Washington State. A case at Samsung that will keep a South Korean plant closed until Sunday. Cases soaring there, in Italy and France. Investors counselled perspective. But markets are already down deeply, and it’s not going to look much better when they open on Monday.

France discourages ‘la bise’ 

In France, Health Minister Olivier Veran suggested that people refrain from the customary greeting of a peck on the cheek — known as “la bise” — to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

It’s a sign of how virus fears are seeping deep into national fabrics. Veran, at a news conference on Saturday, also renewed an official advisory to avoid shaking hands, in addition to “social contacts of a physical nature, including the practice of the bise.”

In Italy, the epicentre of the virus in Europe, two kisses -- one on each cheek -- are standard.

Washington State may have outbreak at health facility 

Two people at the Life Care Center health facility in Kirkland, Washington, were diagnosed with the virus: a health-care worker and a resident of the facility in her 70s. Neither has recently travelled outside the US, said Jeff Duchin, a public health officer for Seattle and King County. In addition, Duchin said there are reports that 27 residents have shown respiratory symptoms, as have 25 staff members. There are about 108 residents and 180 staff at the center.

Washington State declares state of emergency 

Governor Jay Inslee today declared a state of emergency in response to the nation’s first fatality from the coronavirus and the rising number of cases. He directed Washington state agencies to use all resources necessary to prepare for and respond to the outbreak.

“This will allow us to get the resources we need,” Inslee said. “This is a time to take common-sense, proactive measures to ensure the health and safety of those who live in Washington state.

France reports spike in victims 

Cases in France jumped to 100 on Saturday, almost double of the day before, Director General for Health Jerome Salomon said in a daily briefing.

They included a cluster of 36 cases linked to a victim who has now died in the Oise area, including 10 military and civil personnel at the Creil air force base. Other clusters include a group of 11 related to an organised trip to Egypt. Of the 86 hospitalised cases, 9 are in a “serious condition,” Salomon said.

Over-the-counter medicine tested 

The Trump administration is testing “off the shelf” drugs that could be used to combat the virus, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said at the CPAC meeting. He said the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee made “an important discovery” involving existing drugs that could “help us not only cure the disease but stop the spread” of Covid-19. “It’s still early.”

NCAA pressured to play without fans 

The head of the National College Players Association said the March Madness basketball tournament may need to go on in empty stadiums to protect athletes from the virus. The advocacy group’s executive director Ramogi Huma called for a serious discussion with the NCAA “about holding competitions without an audience present.”

The Italian Football Federation is planning for some Serie A games to take place behind closed doors, starting as soon as Sunday.

Turkey cuts flights to high-risk countries 

Turkey stopped all passenger flights to and from Italy, South Korea and Iraq as of midnight, Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

3M to provide 35 million masks 

Vice President Pence, who has been put in charge of the US effort against the virus, said most Americans don’t need to buy masks for protection.

Because of a shortage of masks for health care professionals, 3M will provide 35 million more masks per month under a new contract with the US

Earlier in the day, the US Surgeon General tweeted, “seriously people -- STOP BUYING MASKS!”

First US Virus Death in Washington State

The first person has died from the coronavirus in the US, in Washington state, health officials reported on Saturday.

Health authorities in Seattle planned to brief the media later Saturday on virus cases in King County, including new people identified with the infection, one of whom died, according to an advisory from the agencies. Seattle is in King County.

Washington state health officials had earlier identified two new cases, including a school aged adolescent who had no known travel history or encountered anyone who had visited affected areas.

President Donald Trump and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also planned news conferences about the virus on Saturday.

Italy tops 1,000 cases 

Italy’s confirmed coronavirus infections surpassed 1,000, skyrocketing from nearly zero in just over a week, the nation’s emergency chief Angelo Borrelli said. The total number of infections is 1,128, with 29 possible virus-linked deaths, the Italian Civil Protection official said Saturday at a Rome news conference. The Lombardy region in Italy’s north has biggest pocket of cases, and a cluster of towns near Milan is under quarantine.

Swiss cuts growth forecast 

Switzerland plans to lower its economic growth forecast because of the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters said, citing an official from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. The new forecast will be issued March 17, Eric Scheidegger, head of SECO’s economic policy directorate, said during a government news conference, according to Reuters. SECO predicted GDP growth of 1.7% this year in its most recent forecast in December.

Biden blasts Trump for ‘hoax’ comment 

Joe Biden criticised Donald Trump for describing the coronavirus as a “hoax” by Democats to derail his presidency.

“The president of the United States said it’s a hoax?” Biden said Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina, as Democrats voted in a primary. “For him to start talking about it being a hoax is absolutely dangerous. It’s just not a decent way to act.”

Trump, at a South Carolina rally Friday, said Democrats were “politicising the coronavirus” after he overcame the “impeachment hoax” and allegations about his campaign’s ties with Russia. “This is their new hoax,” Trump said.

Biden told reporters: “When you say things like that it just so diminishes the faith that people around the world have in the United States.”

France cancels large gatherings 

France has banned indoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people and cancelled the Paris half-marathon that was expected to attract 40,000 runners on Sunday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said. The country reported 16 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 73.

Schools in two clusters stricken by the coronavirus, in the Alps and north of Paris, won’t reopen Monday. The government asked people to restrict journeys as much as they can, and to work from home when possible.

The new measures aim to prevent or delay a wider spread of the virus “to win as much time as possible” and avoid an overlap with the flu epidemic, which has started to recede, Veran said.

Iran implements travel measures 

Iran Air says it’s restricting flights for Iranians to Germany, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands and UK. Only Iranian nationals with residency or citizenship of these countries and health certificates will be allowed to fly, the semi-official Iranians Students’ News Agency reported, citing an interview with Masoumeh Asgharzadeh, Iran Air’s director of public affairs. People suspected of coronavirus in Qom, the epicentre of the outbreak there, will be prevented from leaving, according to ILNA.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported the death of MP Mohammad Ali Ramezani Dastak by influenza, though denying that he had contracted the coronavirus.

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