COVID-19 expands reach, fueled by trio of global hot spots

As the main COVID-19 epicenter shifts from China to the rest of the world, South Korea's daily cases topped China's daily total, alongside a brisk, broad rise in cases linked to the hot spot nations of Italy and Iran.

Meanwhile, countries took more bold steps to curb the spread of the virus, including Japan temporarily shuttering schools and Saudi Arabia barring pilgrimage travelers from virus-hit countries.

As the COVID-19 virus spreads around the world, China has now reported its first imported case, a traveler who arrived in Shanghai from Iran on an Aeroflot flight, the South China Morning Post reported.

South Korea confirms 505 new cases

Since yesterday, South Korea reported 505 more cases, raising its total to 1,766, according to the latest report from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). It also reported 1 more death, lifting that total to 13. For comparison, China today reported 433 new cases, putting its total at 78,497, along with 29 more deaths (2,744 total), marking a notable decline in daily fatality reports.

In a snapshot of the first 1,595 Korean cases, the KCDC said 52.9% are related to Shincheonji Church of Jesus and Qingdao University Hospital clusters. Elsewhere, an investigation is under way into an outbreak at St Mary's Hospital in Seoul that has sickened 11 people. Also, health officials are tracking contacts of a Korean Airlines crew member who worked on a flight that carried infected Holy Land travelers and on a flight from Los Angeles to South Korea.

Meanwhile, in outbreak response developments, some local South Korean governments have launched drive-through COVID-19 health checks and testing, several media outlets have reported. Officials have said the drive-through stops can cut testing time by a third and cut the risk of infection by avoiding long waits at crowded clinics.

Also, the United States and South Korea have postponed a military drill over coronavirus concerns, CNN reported today. So far, 25 infections have been reported in South Korean troops and in 1 US soldier.

In other Asian developments:

  • Japan today reported 23 more cases, raising its total to 191, though it notes 210 overall cases that include 19 asymptomatic carriers. One of the newly confirmed patients is a Yokohama quarantine staff member, a development related to the Diamond Princess cruise ship cluster. Fifteen of the new cases are from Hokkaido and the others are from Gifu, Ishikawa, Kanagawa, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Also today, Japan announced the closure of all schools (kindergarten through high school) nationwide until April to help slow the spread of the virus, according to media reports.

  • Singapore today reported 3 more cases, increasing its total to 96. Two are linked to earlier cases, and contact tracing is still under way to determine exposure for the third.

Italian outbreak surges, fuels more cases in Europe

Since yesterday, Italy reported 276 more cases, raising its total to 650, with seven new European countries reporting their first cases, all linked to Italy or Iran, and several more already affected European countries reporting more Italy-linked cases.

Italy's health ministry today said most of the new cases are from the three hard-hit northern regions: Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. Of the total, 248 people are hospitalized, 56 of them in intensive care.

The country also reported 5 more deaths today, raising its fatality count to 17.

Elsewhere in Europe, four countries reported their first cases, all linked to Italy: Denmark, North Macedonia, the Netherlands, and Romania.

Also, three other European countries reported their first cases linked to other countries. Norway reported its first case, which involves a traveler from China, and Estonia reported its first case, which involved an Iranian citizen who traveled by bus via Latvia. Also, Georgia reported its first case in a citizen who was traveling from Iran and crossed the border from Azerbaijan.

Other previously affected European countries reported more infections, including:

  • France's total jumped from 18 to 38 over the past day, mostly owing to detections in contacts of earlier cases, Reuters reported, citing the country's health ministry. Two deaths have been reported.

  • Switzerland today reported 3 more cases, 1 involving a patient in Geneva who had traveled to Milan, Italy, and 2 from Grisons canton in the east of the country with unspecified exposures. The country now has 4 cases.

  • Greece today confirmed a second case-patient, the child of its first confirmed patient, marking the country's first local transmission. The detection prompted the 14-day closure of a primary school as a precaution.

  • UK officials today reported 2 new cases, including a patient exposed in Italy and another who contracted the virus on the Spanish island of Tenerife, raising the country's total to 15.

  • Spain reported its first locally acquired case today and reported at least 2 others, both with Milan links, raising its total to 17, El Pais reported today.

  • Sweden yesterday reported a new case linked to Italy and announced 5 more in three locations today with unspecified sources, raising its total to 7.

  • Germany confirmed 5 more infections since yesterday, raising its total to 26. The government has activated a crisis team and said it's not clear if transmission chains can be broken.

  • Croatia reported 3 more cases, including 2 linked to Italy travel, according to a local media report.

Iran total passes 100, with further Mideast expansion

Iran today reported 106 more cases and 7 more deaths, raising its total to 245 cases, 26 of them fatal. Several already-affected Middle Eastern countries reported more mostly travel-linked cases, and Saudi Arabia today announced that travelers from countries where the COVID-19 virus is spreading will be barred from making religious pilgrimages, such as the Umrah in Mecca.

Countries in the region reporting more cases include:

  • Iraq has 1 more case, a patient in Baghdad who had traveled to Iraq, raising the country's total to 6.

  • Kuwait today reported 18 more, raising its total to 43. All had returned from Iran, Anadolu Agency reported, citing the country's health ministry.

  • Bahrain has 7 more cases, raising its total to 33, according to numbers reflected in a World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean office tweet.

  • Oman reported 1 more infection, reported in an Iran traveler, raising its total to 5, Oman News Agency
  • United Arab Emirates reported 6 new cases in people of three different nationalities, all of whom had Iran travel, raising the country's total to 19, Gulf News reported today.

  • Lebanon today reported 1 new case, raising its total to 3, according to a health ministry Facebook post.

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