BEIJING: An eruption of new coronavirus cases in South Korea, Iran and Chinese hospitals and prisons rekindled concerns Friday about the spread of a deadly disease that has killed more than 2,200 people, reports AFP.
The World Health Organization warned nations could face a serious problem if they fail to “hit hard now” against the virus, which has infected more than 75,000 in China and over 1,100 abroad.China has pointed to official figures showing new cases slowing this week as evidence that its drastic containment measures are working, but fresh infections emerged at two Beijing hospitals, and more than 500 others were reported in prisons across the country.
Chinese authorities have placed tens of millions of people under quarantine in hard-hit central Hubei province and restricted movements in other cities far from the epicentre.
Many nations have banned travellers from China and airlines have suspended flights to and from the country.
But clusters and outbreaks continue to emerge, and 11 people have now died outside mainland China. Chinese officials said a potential vaccine could be submitted for clinical trials around late April.
- South Korean sect -
The total number of cases in South Korea nearly doubled to 204 on Friday, making it the hardest-hit country outside China. More than 120 members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu, have now been infected.It started with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on February 10 but attended at least four church services before being diagnosed. The mayor of Daegu — South Korea’s fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million — has advised residents to stay indoors, while access to a major US base in the area has been restricted.
Most people on the streets were wearing masks Friday, but many businesses were closed and workers sprayed disinfectant outside the church.
“With so many confirmed cases here I’m worried that Daegu will become the second Wuhan,” said Seo Dong-min, 24, referring to Hubei’s capital, where the virus first emerged. Iran confirmed three new cases after two elderly men died from the virus in the city of Qom, prompting Iraq to ban travel to and from its neighbour and Kuwait’s national air carrier to suspend flights.
Two Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, meanwhile, tested positive for coronavirus on their return home despite being cleared in Japan.
The two cases in Australia will fuel questions about Tokyo’s policy of allowing former Diamond Princess passengers to return home after testing negative.
Two former passengers, both Japanese and in their 80s, died in Japan on Thursday.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that now “is the time to attack the virus” while the number of cases abroad remains low.
“If we don’t hit hard now using the window of opportunity we might be faced with a serious problem,” he said.
“This virus is very dangerous and it’s public enemy number one and it’s not being treated as such.”
China reported 118 more deaths on Friday, raising the toll to 2,236, most of the them in Hubei.
The National Health Commission also said in its daily update that China tallied 889 new cases.
The number is up from the previous day when it reported the lowest number of new infections in nearly a month, fuelling hopes that the epidemic is nearing its peak.
Meanwhile, A 29-year-old doctor at the epicentre of China’s new coronavirus outbreak has died from the disease, one of the youngest known fatalities of the epidemic and the latest among medical workers, reports AFP.
Peng Yinhua died Thursday after becoming infected while working at Wuhan’s Jiangxia district People’s No. 1 Hospital, official news agency Xinhua reported.
The respiratory and critical illness doctor had planned to get married during the Lunar New Year holiday, but postponed his wedding to help treat coronavirus patients.
Peng “never got to send out his wedding invitations, which are still in his office drawer,” Xinhua said.
At least eight medical professionals have been killed by the virus, which experts believe is generally most dangerous for elderly patients and those with underlying conditions. Chinese authorities have not disclosed the age range of fatalities in weeks.
More than 2,200 people have now died and more than 75,000 have been infected in China.
The youngest known confirmed patient is a baby in Wuhan who tested positive for the virus just 30 hours after birth. Earlier in February, 34-year-old whistleblowing doctor Li Wenliang died of the virus, prompting nationwide grief and anger over how authorities initially punished the Wuhan ophthalmologist’s early efforts to sound the alarm on the outbreak.
Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, died Tuesday morning.
Chinese authorities say more than 1,700 medical workers have been infected, most in central Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.
Staff have faced shortages of facemasks and protective clothing, with some even wearing makeshift bodysuits and continuing to work despite showing respiratory symptoms, health workers have told AFP. People took to social media once more to mourn Peng on Friday, with many expressing shock at his youth.
“This is really too tragic: white-haired parents sending off black-haired youth, and his wife-to-be who never got to marry him,” one user on the Weibo microblogging platform wrote.