U.S. bans travel to Iran, reports 1st death from COVID-19

The U.S. is banning travel to Iran in response to the outbreak of the new coronavirus and elevating travel warnings to regions of Italy and South Korea.

Vice-President Mike Pence announced the new restrictions and warnings as President Donald Trump said 22 people in the U.S. have been stricken by COVID-19 and that additional cases are “likely.”

“We want to lower the amount of travel to and from the most impacted areas,” said Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services. “This is a basic containment strategy.”

Trump provided an update on the virus after the first reported U.S. death Saturday, of a person he described as being in their late 50s and having a high medical risk. He said healthy Americans should be able to recover if they contract the new virus.

Washington state officials issued a terse news release announcing the death. A spokesperson for EvergreenHealth Medical Center, Kayse Dahl, said the person died in the facility, but gave no details.

State and King County health officials said “new people [have been] identified with the infection, one of whom died.” They did not say how many new cases there are.

Amy Reynolds of the Washington state health department said in a brief telephone interview: “We are dealing with an emergency evolving situation.”

Health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state are now concerned the novel coronavirus could be spreading through West Coast communities, after confirming three patients were infected by unknown means.

The patients — an older Northern California woman with chronic health conditions, a high school student in Everett, Wash., and an employee at a Portland, Ore.-area school — hadn’t recently travelled overseas or had any known close contact with a traveller or an infected person, authorities said.

Worldwide, the number of people sickened by the virus is about 85,000. There have been more than 2,900 deaths, most of them in China.

Here’s the latest in Canada

Ontario health officials confirmed three new cases of coronavirus on Saturday.

The new cases involve a woman, 34, in York Region; a woman, 55, and her husband, 69, in Ajax. Both women had just returned from Iran.

The new cases came a day after a man in 80s was confirmed in Toronto to have COVID-19. Ontario now has 11 cases in total.

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Health officials in B.C. have announced the province’s eighth case of coronavirus, a woman visiting the province from Tehran, Iran.

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix spoke to media on Saturday morning from Vancouver and said the woman is in her 60s and had been visiting family in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Henry says she arrived earlier this week and that her illness is mild.

There are now 20 total cases in Canada, including one in Quebec.

Here’s the latest in South America

Officials in Ecuador on Saturday confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus. It was the second case in South America, following a Brazilian case reported on Wednesday.

Ecuador’s Health Minister Catalina Andramuno Zeballos said a 70-year-old Ecuadoran woman who lives in Spain arrived in the country on Feb. 14 showing no symptoms of illness.

“In the following days she began to feel badly with a fever,” Andramuno said at a news conference, adding that she was taken to a medical centre. The National Institute of Public Health and Investigation in Ecuador confirmed the virus.

The deputy minister of health Julio Lopez said that the patient’s condition was “critical.”

President Lenin Moreno sent out a tweet urging people to stay calm, and the Interior Ministry announced it was barring mass gatherings in the cities of Guayaquil — where the infected woman was located — and in Babahoyo.

Here’s the latest from the Middle East

Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, an official said, underscoring the fear both at home and abroad over the outbreak in the Islamic Republic.

The coronavirus has killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said. He disputed a report by the BBC’s Persian service citing anonymous medical officials in Iran putting the death toll at over four times as high.

Earlier Saturday, Bahrain threatened legal prosecution against travellers who came from Iran and hadn’t been tested for the new coronavirus, and also barred public gatherings for two weeks.

Pedestrians wearing face masks cross a square in western Tehran, Iran, on Saturday. (Vahid Salemi/Associated Press)

The tiny island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia has been hard-hit with cases and shut down some flights to halt the spread of the virus. All of Bahrain’s cases link back to Iran, where even top officials have contracted the virus.

Qatar announced Saturday its first coronavirus case, a Qatari citizen who was on an earlier evacuation flight from Iran. The United Arab Emirates said it would indefinitely shut down all nurseries across the country, home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, beginning Sunday.

Also Saturday, Saudi Arabia announced it would bar citizens of the Gulf Co-operation Council from Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina over concerns about the virus’s spread. The GCC is a six-nation group including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

It has barred all religious pilgrims from Mecca and Medina.

Here’s the latest from East Asia

China has seen a slowdown in new infections and on Saturday morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths. The city at the epicentre of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both.

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.

South Korea, the second hardest hit country, reported 813 new cases on Saturday — the highest daily jump since confirming its first patient in late January and raising its total to 3,150.

Medics check drivers for suspected symptoms of COVID-19 in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Saturday. South Korea has reported its biggest surge in new coronavirus cases. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images)

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. Seventy cases — the largest from a single prefecture in Japan — have been detected in the island prefecture. 

Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and events that were expected to attract tens of thousands of people were called off, including a concert series by the K-pop group BTS.

Here’s the latest from Europe

The number of French cases almost doubled, to 100, on Saturday. Of those 86 are hospitalized, two have died and 12 have recovered, said the head of France’s national health service, Jerome Salomon.

The cancellation of large gatherings in confined spaces was announced earlier Saturday by Health Minister Olivier Véran after special government meetings that focused on responses to the epidemic.

Having previously recommended that people avoid shaking hands, the minister said they should also cut back on la bise, the custom in France and elsewhere in Europe of giving greetings with kisses, or air kisses, on the cheeks.

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Italian authorities say the country now has more than 1,000 coronavirus cases and 29 people infected with the virus have died.

The head of Italy’s civil protection agency said during a news conference that the total number reached 1,128 on Saturday. Officials also reported eight more deaths in the previous 24 hours of people with the virus, bring Italy’s death toll to 29.

Civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said 52 per cent of the people who tested positive for the virus in Italy are being isolated in their homes and not hospitalized.

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