Coronavirus cases spike in South Korea and Italy, sparking new fears

Less than a month after world leaders told the public that the coronavirus would be contained quickly and swiftly, the virus has not only escaped mainland China but has also wreaked havoc throughout other Asian countries and claimed lives around the world.

On Feb. 14, an 80-year Chinese tourist died in a hospital in Paris, the first coronavirus death outside of Asia. At the time, the man’s life was the fourth claimed by the virus outside of mainland China.

As of Feb. 24, the virus, officially recognized as 2019-nCoV or COVID-19, has claimed 2,622 lives across 32 countries. Some 79,407 total cases have been confirmed across 32 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 77,000 of those cases have come from China, but in other countries, the numbers of cases have made shocking leaps in recent days.

“So how should we describe the current situation? What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world, affecting countries in different ways and requiring a tailored response,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press conference on Monday. “The sudden increase in new cases is certainly very concerning.”

A worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. South Korea reported another large jump in new virus cases Monday a day after the president called for “unprecedented, powerful” steps to combat the outbreak that is increasingly confounding attempts to stop the spread. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

In less than a week, South Korea went from having 20 confirmed cases in the country to 833. Similarly, an eruption of cases in Italy drove fear throughout Europe. Italian health officials reported more than 219 cases of the virus in the country and a death toll of five.

The spike prompted officials to lock down 10 towns near Milan, potentially impacting at least 50,000 people. In the region of Lombardy, more than 170 cases and at least four deaths have been recorded.

While officials and experts have both hoped that warmer weather would stem the spread of the virus, recent weather around Milan and the South Korean capital of Seoul doesn’t paint a clear picture of the weather’s current impact. Both regions have recorded daily temperatures warmer than historical averages in recent weeks, but neither is close to reaching the 86-degree-Fahrenheit threshold that some pathologists have predicted would lead to the disease inactivating.


In similar measures, countries around the world are barring entry to foreign visitors who have recently visited China. On Sunday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in enacted the highest level of alert available, allowing the government to ban visitors from China. On Monday, the country reported another 231 new cases.

Fears that the virus will become a global pandemic were further heightened when 50 people in Iran were killed by the virus in recent weeks. The updated death toll was reported on Monday by Iran’s ILNA news agency and represented a stark rise from the 12 deaths that were reported by state TV earlier in the day.

However, at Monday’s press conference, Ghebreyesus refuted the pandemic claims and worked to assure the public that progress was being made.

A tourist from South Korea wears protective mask while waiting for a flight back to South Korea at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this coronavirus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death,” he said. “What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world, affecting countries in different ways and requiring a tailored response.”

The tally for total cases in the United States reached 53 on Monday, according to an announcement from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Two of those cases were spread person to person while 12 were travel-related. Another 36 of those cases came via the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been docked at a port in Yokohama, Japan, for weeks.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more worldwide new recoveries than new confirmations of coronaviruses cases for six straight days. On Feb. 22, more than 4,000 cases were deemed recovered, the highest recovery day on record for the virus. Around the world, there have been over 25,000 cases of recovery since the beginning of the outbreak.

For comparison, there have been an estimated 16 million cases, 160,000 hospitalizations and 9,400 deaths from the flu in the United States, according to CDC data, since Jan. 11, the date of the first reported fatality from COVID-19, as recorded by the China state media and shared by the Xinhua news agency.

Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general of the World Health Organization speaks with a chart during a press conference in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. Aylward said in Beijing on Monday that China’s actions had probably prevented tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of cases of the COVID-19 virus. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

In Monday’s press conference, assistant director-general Bruce Aylward said that recovery and prevention efforts in China are beginning to prove fruitful.

“Very rapidly, multiple sources of data pointed to the same thing: This is falling, and it’s falling because of the actions that are being taken,” said Aylward. “China was the first line of defense to prevent the international spread of this virus, because they feared and felt the responsibility to protect the world from this virus … Other countries should think about whether they apply something, not necessarily through lockdowns, but the same rigorous approach.”

The worldwide fear has also dealt some economic blows. On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 1,000 points by noon, erasing all of its gains for the year, according to CNBC — largely due to fears about Chinese disruptions on the global supply chain. According to the S&P, the drop would represent the third-largest total point plunge in U.S. history if it holds through Monday.

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