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Govts scramble to stop virus as new hot spots emerge

2020-02-26 HKT 19:06
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  • Army soldiers and police check transit to and from the cordoned areas near Turano Lodigiano, Northern Italy. Photo: AP
    Army soldiers and police check transit to and from the cordoned areas near Turano Lodigiano, Northern Italy. Photo: AP
Governments worldwide were scrambling to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus Wednesday after fresh infections emerged linked to European hotspot Italy amid dire warnings that countries are not ready to contain the outbreak.

Giving most concern on that score in the Middle East, Iran emerged as a major hotspot, with 44 further infections reported across the country in the past 24 hours.

In another crucial hotspot, South Korea, the Covid-19 epidemic appeared to pick up speed, with the most infections – more than 280 – recorded in a day.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases and deaths declined at the disease epicentre in China although experts warned against being too optimistic on that count.

Italy has become the latest major cause for concern after France, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland all reported infections in people who had recently been to its worst-hit Lombardy region.

France additionally reported a second death – this time of one of its nationals after a Chinese tourist died earlier this month. French authorities are investigating how the man contracted the virus.

Algeria also reported its first case, an Italian national who had arrived in the country last week.

Several governments are now advising people against travel to Italy, in particular to the regions worst affected in the north, as well as introducing checks for passengers arriving from the country.

Italian authorities have taken drastic measures to contain the outbreak which has seen 11 deaths and more than 320 cases within the country.

Eleven towns have been put in isolation and tens of millions people have been affected by school closures and the cancellation of cultural and sporting events.

In the Middle East, Iran has emerged as a major hotspot, with 44 further infections reported on Wednesday.

Four further deaths brought the death toll there to 19. Even the country's deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi has said he has contracted the virus.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose country came to the brink of war with Iran earlier this year, said Washington is deeply concerned Tehran "may have suppressed vital details" about the outbreak there.

Gulf countries announced new measures to cut links with Iran in an attempt to stop the spread.

In the United States, which has a few dozen cases, health authorities urged local governments, businesses, and schools to develop plans like cancelling mass gatherings or switching to teleworking as the country braces for the virus to spread further. (AFP)