Gatherings banned, travel restricted: Coronavirus cases grow worldwide

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    LEADERS in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas rolled out bans on big gatherings and stricter travel restrictions as cases of the new coronavirus spread around the world.

    The epidemic, which began in China, has killed almost 3,000 people worldwide.

    More than 50 countries have reported cases with Mexico and San Marino as the latest additions. In a bulletin issued Saturday, the World Health Organization said there were 6,009 cases outside China, an increase of 1,318 from the previous day.

    In China, the biggest daily rise in coronavirus cases since February 22 was reported on Sunday as more infections emerged among prison inmates in the epicenter of the outbreak, but officials emphasized the overall situation continues to improve.

    South Korea, meanwhile, closed churches as its coronavirus tally passed 3,700. Some members of a church at the center of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak visited the Chinese city of Wuhan in January, where the disease is believed to have originated. Most of the South Korean patients were traced to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu. The church had a presence in Wuhan.

    The United States on Saturday reported its first death from the disease, a man in his 50s in Washington state, where officials said two of the state’s three cases have links to a nursing home with dozens of residents showing disease symptoms.

    Although most Americans face a low risk from the virus, more US deaths could be imminent following the nation’s first, CNN quoted Vice President Mike Pence as saying.

    “We know there will be more cases,” Pence told CNN’s Jake Tapper in a clip released on Saturday, echoing President Donald Trump’s earlier comments that additional cases in America were “likely.”

    Travelers from Italy and South Korea would face additional screening, Trump and top officials told a White House news briefing, warning Americans against traveling to coronavirus-affected regions in both countries.

    Pence said an entry ban on travelers from Iran would be expanded to include any foreign nationals who have visited Iran in the last 14 days.

    The United States may also restrict travel on its southern border with Mexico, officials said. However, they encouraged Americans to travel around the country, including states that have recorded some of its more than 60 cases.

    The outbreak is disrupting flight demand and many airlines have suspended or modified services in response. After Saturday’s press conference, the White House held a call with airlines to discuss new travel restrictions.

    American Airlines Inc said late on Saturday it was suspending all US flights to Milan.

    NEW CASES

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

    Brazilian officials confirmed that country’s second case, a patient in São Paulo who recently visited Italy.

    As governments worldwide stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus, France announced a temporary ban on public gatherings with more than 5,000 people in confined spaces. It reported 16 new cases for a total of 73, and canceled a half-marathon of 40,000 runners scheduled for Sunday.

    Switzerland said it is banning events expected to draw more than 1,000 people.

    More than 700 tourists remain quarantined at a hotel in the Canary Islands, after several Italian guests there tested positive for coronavirus.

    Schools and universities in Italy, which is experiencing Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease, will stay closed for a second consecutive week in three northern regions. The country has reported more than 1,100 cases and 29 deaths.

    Analysts have warned that the outbreak looks set to shunt Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years, with many businesses in the wealthy north close to a standstill and hotels reporting a wave of cancellations.

    FOCUS ON IRAN

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

    The majority of infections in other Gulf countries have been linked to visits to Iran or involve people who have come into contact with people who had been there.

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

    Tehran has ordered schools shut until Tuesday and extended the closure of universities and a ban on concerts and sports events for a week. Authorities have also banned visits to hospitals and nursing homes as the country’s case load hit nearly 600.

    One Iranian lawmaker, elected in Feb. 21 polls, has died from the disease along with more than 40 other Iranians, and several high-ranking officials have tested positive for the virus.
    Azerbaijan said on Saturday it had closed its border with Iran for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Two Azerbaijanis who traveled to Iran have tested positive for the disease and quarantined.

    Mainland China reported 573 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Feb. 29, up from 427 the previous day, national health officials said on Sunday in China. The number of deaths stood at 35, down from 47 the previous day, taking the toll in mainland China to 2,870.

    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.

    CHURCHES CLOSED

    Churches were closed in South Korea on Sunday, with many holding online services instead, as authorities fought to rein in public gatherings as 586 new coronavirus infections took the tally to 3,736 cases.

    That came a day after the biggest daily jump of 813 cases in South Korea’s battle with the largest virus outbreak outside China, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The death toll rose to 20, up from 17 the day before.

    In Seoul, about a dozen worshippers were turned away from the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which put a sermon for its 560,000 followers on YouTube, filmed with a small choir instead of all 200 members and 60-strong orchestra.

    Authorities have warned of a “critical moment” in the battle against the virus, urging people to refrain from attending religious services and political events and stay home this weekend.

    For the first time in its 236-year history, South Korea’s Catholic church decided to halt masses at more than 1,700 locations nationwide. Buddhist temples also called off events, while major Christian churches held online services.

    Of the new cases, 333 were from the southeastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the center of the outbreak, and 26 from the nearby province of North Gyeongsang, KCDC said.

    The agency said some church members in January visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease emerged late last year, adding it was investigating to determine if the trip played a role in the outbreak.

    The church’s founder and chairman, self-proclaimed messiah Lee Man-hee, was tested for the virus on Saturday and is awaiting results, the Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday, citing a church official.

    Calls by Reuters to the church’s headquarters in Gwacheon, just south of Seoul, went answered.

    But the church issued a statement later on Sunday reiterating calls for an end to “stigmatization, hatred and slander” against its followers, saying it was cooperating with the government’s efforts to contain the outbreak. – Reuters