Virus cases mount in more countries

Virus cases mount in more countries

Japanese stay home in droves as authorities step up prevention efforts

Hanshin Tigers players celebrate their win over Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks following their pre-season game in an empty stadium in Fukuoka on Saturday. (Jiji Press via AFP)
Hanshin Tigers players celebrate their win over Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks following their pre-season game in an empty stadium in Fukuoka on Saturday. (Jiji Press via AFP)

Iran and South Korea reported hundreds more cases of coronavirus while unexplained infections in California, Oregon and Washington indicated the disease is spreading within the community on the west coast of the United States.

Iran reported another 205 cases, including five lawmakers, while the number of infections in South Korea soared by 35%, or by over 800, in 24 hours. In China, factory activity fell to a record low after weeks of closures caused by the virus. 

In Japan, baseball stadiums, amusement parks and many other popular spots were mostly empty on Saturday following the government’s request to operators of sports and entertainment venues to consider cancelling or postponing mass gatherings to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Baseball games were played without spectators across the country as Nippon Professional Baseball decided to hold all 72 of its remaining preseason games behind closed doors.

“It’s for the safety of our fans. It can’t be helped,” said Kimiyasu Kudo, manager of the SoftBank Hawks in the Pacific League.

There were also few signs of life in many other places. Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan, which usually draw big crowds on weekends, have been closed until March 15 in line with the government’s request.

In Hokkaido, the northernmost main island where a state of emergency was declared on Friday, fish markets, commercial facilities and tourist spots were deserted, while department stores and restaurant chains cut business hours.

At least 70 infections, including two deaths, have been confirmed in Hokkaido, prompting the governor to ask residents to remain indoors over the weekend.

In the Japanese capital, Tokyo Girls Collection, a major fashion show, went ahead without spectators. The show, including models on the catwalk, was livestreamed instead.

Qatar reports first case

Qatar confirmed its first case of coronavirus after a 36-year-old Qatari woman who was evacuated to Doha from Iran tested positive and was admitted to hospital.

Iran on Saturday reported nine new deaths and 205 fresh cases in the past 24 hours, bringing its overall toll to 43 dead and 593 infected. The government denied rapidly circulating rumours that the actual death toll exceeded 200.

Gulf countries have announced numerous measures to cut links with Iran to prevent the virus spreading, after infections emerged among people returning from pilgrimages to the Islamic republic.

Saudi Arabia on Friday barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Qatar, from entering two of Islam’s holiest cities.

The Gulf tally stands at 45 cases in Kuwait, 38 in Bahrain, six in Oman and two more in the United Arab Emirates for a total of 21.

Azerbaijan closes Iran border

Azerbaijan closed its border with Iran for two weeks and said two more Azeri nationals had coronavirus after visiting the country’s southern neighbour, bringing the nation’s total cases to three. Azeris currently in Iran and Iranians visiting Azerbaijan will be allowed to return home, it said. The restrictions also apply to flights between the Azeri and Iranian capitals, Azerbaijan Airlines said.

Iran adds travel curbs

Iran Air said it would restrict flights for Iranians to Germany, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands and the UK. Only Iranian nationals with residency or citizenship of those countries and health certificates will be allowed to fly, an airline spokesman said. People suspected of coronavirus in Qom, the centre of the outbreak there, will be prevented from leaving.

Football postponements

In Italy, the football match between Juventus and Inter Milan was postponed until May 13 in compliance with urgent measures to contain Covid-19, the Turin-based team said. Five Serie A games in Italy’s top league have been postponed.

Spain’s El Clasico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid is still set to go ahead on Sunday. The country has 46 infections, including two serious cases, the head of the the country’s health emergency centre said.

Case identified near Rome

New cases have popped up elsewhere in Italy, including on the fringes of the capital. A woman from Fiumicino, the town that borders Rome’s main airport, tested positive after travelling to the Bergamo area in Lombardy, regional health authorities said. Her husband and one of her two children were also positive in preliminary tests conducted Saturday.

Japan plans aid measures

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was planning a second round of measures to tackle the virus outbreak, using 270 billion yen ($2.5 billion) in remaining reserves from this year’s budget.

Subsidies will be introduced for those who lose income due to measures such as school closures, said She, adding that full details would be available in about 10 days.

Panic buying in the UK

UK retailers are already reporting panic buying as consumers fear a mass outbreak of coronavirus in the country, the Daily Telegraph reports. The online grocer Ocado said it had seen a spike in “particularly large orders” as customers stockpile food and health products. Boots, the pharmacy, has had to resort to rationing hand sanitiser, the newspaper said. There have been 20 confirmed cases of the virus and no fatalities in the UK

China could have vaccine by April

China’s vaccine research experts told Prime Minister Li Keqiang that a vaccine for coronavirus could be introduced for emergency use as early as April.

Researchers said some coronavirus vaccines could be used under certain conditions, according to a statement posted on government website, citing a trip Li made to the coronavirus national medical equipment emergency platform on Friday. The statement didn’t give details on the vaccine or the conditions.

More cases in South Korea, Taiwan

In South Korea’s second update of the day, it said total infections there had jumped to 3,150 from 2,931 earlier on Saturday. That’s more than 810 cases in just one day.

The number of cases in Taiwan jumped by five to 39, as the newly infected included three nurses and a hospital janitor.

Australia bans Iran arrivals

Australia imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals arriving from Iran and advised its own citizens not to travel there. Australians coming back from Iran must isolate themselves because the country poses “a very high risk”, said Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical offer. A woman earlier tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran this week. She’s in isolation at Gold Coast University Hospital.

China factory activity at record low

China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index plunged to 35.7 in February from 50 the previous month, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The figure offers the biggest insight yet into how much the coronavirus is hurting China’s economy. The non-manufacturing gauge also dropped to a record 29.6 from 54.1 in January. Values below 50 denote worsening conditions.

China reported 427 new cases for Friday, of which 423 were in Hubei, according to the National Health Commission. That takes total confirmed cases in the country to 79,251.

There were 47 deaths on Friday, of which 45 were in Hubei. Some 39,000 people have now been discharged from hospitals.

Cases in western US

Health officials in Washington state identified two new cases, including an adolescent who had no known connection to an outbreak-hit country or anyone who has visited such an area. The other patient had travelled to South Korea.

The first reported coronavirus patient in Oregon was probably infected within the community, according to the state’s health authority. The patient, who is from Washington County, had no known recent travel history to a country with a large virus outbreak, nor close contact with a confirmed case.

The person works at a school in the adjoining Clackamas County and may have exposed students and staff to the virus, the Oregon Health Authority said.

A second person in California was diagnosed with the coronavirus despite a lack of known ties to other infected patients or areas. The case on Santa Clara county is seen as a further sign that the disease is likely spreading in some parts of the US

WHO: Travel bans don’t work

The World Health Organization said a preliminary analysis of countries that blocked entry of travellers from China “suggest that such measures may have delayed the importation of new cases, but did not prevent the importation of the disease”.

The UN agency has recommended against imposing travel or trade restrictions to combat the outbreak.


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