Coronavirus cases continue to climb in Iran and Italy

The latest:

  • Big jump in reported coronavirus cases in Iran and Italy.
  • U.K. prepares with ‘worst-case scenario’ plan as cases total 35.
  • 1st cases reported in Armenia, Ireland and Ecuador.
  • 20 cases of coronavirus reported in Canada, no deaths.
  • Chinese researchers say death rate may be lower than feared.
  • UN conference on women’s rights to be drastically scaled back. 

Iran’s death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, climbed to 54 on Sunday as the number of confirmed cases jumped overnight by more than half, to 978 people.

The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday and 385 new cases in Iran. 

The outbreak in Iran prompted its neighbours to seal their borders to Iranians last weekend, while other Gulf states have halted flights to Iran. Calls by Iran’s government to clerics to close religious shrines to the public have not been uniformly followed.

The virus has infected at least seven government officials in Iran, including one of its vice presidents and a senior health ministry official.

A tourist wearing a mask stands in Piazza del Duomo in central Milan on Saturday. (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

Iraq reported five new cases of the disease, bringing its total to 13, and Qatar reported its first on Saturday, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only Gulf state not to have reported any coronavirus cases. On Sunday, Qatar confirmed two more cases.

The number of countries touched by the virus has climbed past 60, with Ireland and Ecuador reporting their first cases Saturday. More than 86,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus. Nearly 3,000 people have died, mostly in China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak originated in December.

On Sunday, Italy — which has the most reported cases of any country outside Asia — said its coronavirus infections jumped 40 per cent from the previous day to 1,576 and that 34 citizens who were infected have died.

China reported 35 more deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, taking the toll in the country to 2,870. It also reported a slight uptick in new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that number has exceeded 500. They remain almost entirely confined to Hubei and its capital Wuhan, which was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. 

While the new coronavirus has extended its reach across the world, definite geographic clusters of infections have been emerging, with Iran, Italy and South Korea seeing rising cases.

South Korea, the second hardest hit country after China, has more than 3,500 cases.

U.K. not ruling out shutting down cities

Britain is planning for the epidemic to get worse, health minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday, describing the outbreak as a “very, very significant challenge.”

“We’ve got a clear strategy for dealing with coronavirus —- a very, very significant challenge,” Hancock told Sky News. “We’re also planning in case this gets worse, much worse.”

Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr the government is planning for the “worst-case scenario” and that contingency plans would be published this week.

A woman who has recovered from COVID-19 is disinfected by volunteers as she arrives at a hotel for a 14-day quarantine after being discharged from a hospital in Wuhan, China on Sunday. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

If the virus becomes more widespread, the U.K. government will look at registering retired health workers to work again, and whether encouraging people to work at home could delay its peak until summer when it can be more easily dealt with.

Britain announced a jump in coronavirus cases on Sunday, with 12 new infections taking the total to 35. Hancock said the outbreak will become a standing item for all cabinet meetings and there will be more media briefings from health officials.

Johnson wrote in the Sun newspaper that it was right to be concerned about the possible spread of the virus, but said a visit to a British hospital had left him “100 per cent confident in the medical resilience.”

Asked if cities could be shut down, Hancock said that would entail a “huge economic and social downside,” but added, “We don’t take anything off the table at this stage.”

Louvre in Paris closed for coronavirus meeting

Panic buying of daily necessities emerged in Japan, tourist sites across Asia, Europe and the Mideast were deserted, and governments closed schools and banned big gatherings. Amusement parks have been shuttered and concerts cancelled. 

Saudi Arabia closed off Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina to foreign pilgrims, disrupting travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Officials in France advised residents to forgo customary greeting kisses.

The Louvre Museum in Paris was closed on Sunday for a staff meeting, held to discuss efforts to prevent the virus from spreading.

U.S. reports its 1st COVID-19 death 

The United States recorded its first COVID-19 death on Saturday, a man in his 50s near Seattle in Washington state who had underlying health conditions but who hadn’t travelled to any affected areas. The state has recorded two other “presumptive” cases of coronavirus at a long-term care facility near Seattle where more than 50 residents and staff could be showing symptoms.

New cases were reported in the Chicago area and Rhode Island on Sunday. In total, there are 71 confirmed and presumptive cases in the U.S.

The United States has 75,000 test kits for the virus and will expand that number “radically” in coming weeks, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence —  appointed last week to run the White House’s coronavirus response — said the government had contracted 3M Co. to produce an extra 35 million respiratory masks a month. He urged Americans not to buy the masks, which he said were only needed by health-care workers. Honeywell International Inc. is the other major U.S. mask producer.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past empty supermarket shelves, usually stocked with toilet paper, in Tokyo on Sunday. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recommended that a meeting March 9 where about 10,000 people were to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a UN conference on women’s rights be drastically scaled back because of the spread of COVID-19.

Many cases of the illness have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all. That can allow for easier spread, and worries are mounting that prolonged quarantines, supply chain disruptions and a sharp reduction in tourism and business travel could weaken the global economy or even cause a recession.

More cases announced in Canada

Three more coronavirus cases were announced in Ontario and one more in British Columbia on Saturday.

That brings the total number of cases in Canada to 20: 11 in Ontario, eight in B.C. and one in Quebec. 

There have been no deaths in Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk remains low in the country. 

Thailand reported its first death from the virus on Sunday, while in Australia, a former passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan died in the western city of Perth. The 78-year-old man was among more than 150 Australians taken off the vessel in Japan.

Lebanon’s health ministry said on Sunday three more people had tested positive for the virus after arriving from Iran, bringing the total in the country to 10. The three patients, who had been in isolation at home, were quarantined at a Beirut hospital after showing symptoms.

Travellers with ties to Italy testing positive

Ecuador on Saturday reported its first case, in a woman who had travelled from Madrid, while Mexico reported four cases, all in people who had visited Italy.

Health officials in the Dominican Republic on Sunday reported the first confirmed case of the virus, a 62-year-old Italian citizen. Public Health Minister Rafael Sanchez Cardenas said the man had arrived in the country on Feb. 22 without showing symptoms. He was being treated in isolation at a military hospital and “has not shown serious complications.”

Armenia reported its first infection on Sunday, in a citizen returning from neighbouring Iran.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Czech Republic announced its first three infections. Health Minister Adam Vojtech said two COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Prague and one was hospitalized in the northern city of Usti nad Labem. All three had some travel ties to northern Italy.

Spain said Sunday the country now has 71 virus cases. The eastern Valencia region has the most, all linked to Italy, including soccer fans who had travelled to Milan for a match in early February.

The Dutch health minister also announced three new cases, bringing the Netherlands’ overall tally of patients to 10.

Brazilian officials confirmed that country’s second case, a patient in Sao Paulo who recently visited Italy. A man with links to an affected area in northern Italy has tested positive for COVID-19 in Ireland.

Death rate may be lower than feared, some scientists say

As governments scrambled to control the spread and businesses wrestled with interruptions, researchers working to better understand the disease reported that the death rate may be lower than initially feared as more mild cases are counted.

A study by Chinese researchers published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzing 1,099 patients at more than 500 hospitals throughout China calculated a death rate of 1.4 per cent, substantially lower than earlier studies that focused on patients in Wuhan, where it started and has been most severe.

Assuming there are many more cases with no or very mild symptoms, “the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1 per cent,” U.S. health officials wrote in an editorial in the journal.

That would make the new virus more like a severe seasonal flu than a disease similar to its genetic cousins SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome.

There’s growing evidence of the vast cost and economic turmoil of the disease that emerged in central China in December. A new report shows a sharp decline in Chinese manufacturing in February after efforts to contain the virus shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy. The survey comes as global stock markets fall sharply on fears that the virus will spread abroad.

WATCH | How COVID-19 is affecting the economy:

Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, talks about how COVID-19 is affecting the economy. 3:42

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced a $3.35-billion Cdn economic package to help fight the virus and provide financial support for parents and their employers affected by closures. Abe said at a news conference that Japan is at critical juncture to determine whether the country can keep the outbreak under control ahead of the Tokyo summer Olympics.

The last group of about 130 crew members got off the Diamond Princess on Sunday, vacating the contaminated cruise ship and ending Japan’s much criticized quarantine in Yokohama that left more than one fifth of the ship’s original population infected with the new virus.

China has seen a slowdown in new infections, and the ruling party is striving to restore public and business confidence and avert a deeper economic downturn and politically risky job losses after weeks of disruptions due to the viral outbreak.

A pilgrim returning from Iran via the Pakistan-Iran border town of Taftan has her temperature checked on Saturday. (AFP via Getty Images)

In other areas caught up in the outbreak, eerie scenes met those who ventured outside.

Streets were deserted in the city of Sapporo on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where a state of emergency was issued until mid-March. Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and big events were cancelled, including a concert series by the K-pop group BTS. 

A recovered patient, 98, is discharged from Leishenshan Hospital, the makeshift hospital for the COVID-19 coronavirus patients, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on Sunday. (AFP via Getty Images)

Tourist arrivals in Thailand are down 50 per cent compared with a year ago, and in Italy, hotel bookings are falling and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the spectre of recession.

The head of the World Health Organization has said that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was “very high,” while Guterres said the “window of opportunity” for containing the virus was narrowing.

From stocking up on supplies to changing travel plans, The National looks at how Canadians can prepare for a coronavirus outbreak and what may be unnecessary. 1:52

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