S.Korea on red alert as cases soar: Virus update

S.Korea on red alert as cases soar: Virus update

Market workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in the southeastern city of Daegu, South Korea on Sunday as a preventive measure after the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.  (AFP photo)
Market workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in the southeastern city of Daegu, South Korea on Sunday as a preventive measure after the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (AFP photo)

South Korea raised the country’s infectious-disease alert to the highest level after the number of cases there soared by several hundred within days.

In neighbouring Japan, a passenger on the ill-fated Diamond Princess tested positive after arriving home north of Tokyo, despite a negative reading during the ship’s quarantine. The latest developments underscored that the focus on averting a global pandemic is now outside China.

In China’s Hubei province, the original locus of the disease, there were another 96 deaths Saturday, in line with the toll reported in recent days.

The number of cases in Thailand remained at 35, with two of those serious.

China’s top leadership pledged further fiscal and monetary steps to help growth rebound, while finance chiefs from the world’s biggest economies, gathering in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, fretted over the risks.  The IMF said its baseline scenario is now for China to expand 5.6% this year -- 0.4 percentage points lower than a January estimate, shaving 0.1 percentage points off global growth.

Key Developments

- China cases rise to at least 76,936 as of Feb 22, with 2,442 fatalities

- South Korea reported 123 more cases, bringing that country’s total to 556, and two more deaths

- A Japanese passenger who tested negative for the virus during the Diamond Princess’s quarantine fell ill and tested positive on Feb 22 after returning home

South Korea on red alert (2.17pm)

South Korea raised its infectious-disease alert to red, the highest level, after the number of coronavirus cases soared in recent days. President Moon Jae-in said at a meeting with health authorities that the government could take “powerful measures like never before without being tied to regulations” to contain the outbreak.

The country also on Sunday reported 169 new cases, bringing the total to 602. That marks about a 20-fold surge within five days. Many of the infections have been at a hospital in Cheongdo, with almost all the patients in the psychiatric ward of that facility being affected. Local reports have said that a religious sect with followers who were infected had attended a funeral in the same complex.

France preparing for epidemic to spread

Heath Minister Olivier Veran said “it is very likely” that new cases will emerge in France after a jump in cases in neighbouring Italy, speaking in an interview with Le Parisien Dimanche newspaper published on Sunday.

Laboratories across the country are being supplied with additional tests so that thousands of people can be checked on a daily basis, and more masks are being distributed, Veran told the newspaper. “I want us to be fully operational,” he was quoted saying.

Trump reported to plan asking for emergency funds (12.01pm)

President Donald Trump will soon ask the US Congress for emergency funds to fight the coronavirus outbreak, Politico reported, citing four people with knowledge of matter who weren’t identified.

The funding may be as little as $1 billion, significantly lower than what some health officials say is sufficient, two of the people told Politico. The money could be spent quickly on developing potential vaccines and lab tests, they said.

China central banker sees limited economic impact (10.56am)

China has sufficient policy scope to address the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, which will prove limited, according to People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Chen Yulu, the central bank said in a posting Sunday. Chen in a Financial Times column Feb 20 wrote that China will probably see a “V-shaped” recovery.

China’s top leaders pledged a more proactive fiscal policy after a Feb 21 meeting, and the PBOC signalled further monetary steps to come.

South Korea reports further jump in cases (8.21am)

South Korea confirmed there have been four deaths among coronavirus patients, and a further 123 cases, taking the total to 556. Almost a fifth of the infections have been at a hospital in Cheongdo, with almost all the patients in the psychiatric ward of that facility being affected. Local reports have said that a religious sect with followers who were infected had attended a funeral in the same complex.

Prime Minister Chung Se-Kyun on Saturday asked citizens to stop religious-group activities after a sect was linked to a swathe of cases there.

Japanese cruise passenger tests positive (7.58am)

A woman in her 60s who had tested negative for the virus during the quarantine Feb 14 on board the Diamond Princess ended up falling ill after returning home. Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, said in a statement that she developed a fever on Feb 21 and tested positive on Feb 22.

The development underscored a Feb 18 warning by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that there was an “ongoing risk” from the passengers. More than 1,000 passengers left the virus-hit ship last week after the quarantine period.

Italy takes wide-ranging steps to contain virus (5.50am)

Italy put in place perhaps Europe’s strongest measures to contain the coronavirus, as it reported its second death and a total of 76 cases spread across five regions. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said travel to and from an area of about 50,000 people southeast of Milan is banned. The country is also cancelling top-flight soccer games, and the government said that local authorities can call in the military to enforce the quarantine if needed. While Conte said Italy won’t seek a suspension of the Schengen agreement, which eliminated immigration controls between 26 European countries, the virus surge illustrated the potential threat to borderless travel.

US raises alerts on travel to Japan, South Korea

The State Department raised its alert levels for travel to Japan and South Korea to Level 2. That compares with a Level 4 -- “do not travel” -- for China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Japan and South Korea are seeing “sustained community transmission” of the virus and called for the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions to consider postponing non-essential travel there.

Japan has reported one death, and an additional two cases of people who were passengers on the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship. It has a relatively large number of infections, with over 130. There have been more than 600 confirmed cases among passengers on the Diamond Princess.

UK also issues advisory

Britain on Saturday advised against “all but essential travel” to Daegu and Cheongdo due to the outbreak, after South Korea’s government designated the two cities as “special care zones”.

Hubei reports 96 deaths, bringing total to 2,346 (5.10am)

China’s Hubei province on Sunday reported an additional 630 cases on Feb 22, and 96 further deaths. It said 1,742 patients were discharged. The death toll in the epicentre of the disease now stands at 2,346 people.

Those tallies account for the majority of the national totals in China, which now stand at 2,442 dead and 76,936 cases.

Sixth Iranian reported dead amid wide school closures (2.15am)

A sixth person died Saturday in Iran, in central Markazi province, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Iran’s health officials also reported 785 suspected cases, raising the possibility of far wider infection. There are 28 confirmed infections.

Officials ordered schools in six provinces closed. Soccer teams, concert halls, theatres and cinemas have also been told to cancel events, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The health ministry later said it closed universities in 10 provinces.

Kuwait Airways said it would send planes to Iran’s second-biggest city of Mashhad to evacuate more than 700 Kuwaiti citizens. Private flights have been halted.

Israelis and Palestinians contain possible spread from South Koreans (2.10am)

Israel blocked the entry of South Korean tourists on Saturday, a day after the Middle Eastern country reported its first case of the virus. South Korea said the move was “regrettable”, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Israel’s health ministry also imposed a two-week quarantine on people who had contact with nine South Korean tourists who recently tested positive. The Palestinian ministry of interior said sites visited by the travellers will be closed. In addition, Israel expanded quarantine regulations, requiring Israelis returning from South Korea and Japan to remain in isolation for two weeks, Haaretz newspaper reported.

Britons arrive back from Diamond Princess (Saturday 11.40pm)

The UK Foreign Office said 32 British and European citizens arrived from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan. They are being transported to a hospital in northwestern England, where earlier evacuees from Wuhan were quarantined.

UBS chairman says effects underestimated (6.09pm)

UBS Group AG Chairman Axel Weber said markets are underpricing the risk that the coronavirus poses to the global economy. The impact will go beyond the first quarter, Weber said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By his estimates, global growth will experience a massive drop from 3.5% to 0.5% and China will post a negative growth rate in the first quarter. That’s not happened since at least 1990, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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