SWITZRLAND, FEBRUARY 24 – Up till a few days ago, the coronavirus(COVID-19) epidemic had largely been confined to China with minimal infections and deaths in other countries. However, an alarming rise in the rate of infection in other countries including Korea, Iran, and Italy have heightened fears of a global pandemic.
South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the “highest level” as confirmed case numbers keep rising.
President Moon Jae-in said the country faced “a grave turning point”, and the next few days would be crucial in the battle to contain the outbreak.
Six people have died from the virus in South Korea and more than 600 have been infected.
Meanwhile, Italy and Iran have announced steps to try to contain worrying outbreaks of the virus.
In Italy, strict quarantine restrictions are in force in two northern “hotspot” regions close to Milan and Venice.
Around 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled including several top-flight football matches.
Iran’s government has reported 12 deaths andover 60 infections from the new coronavirus, but local officials in the Southern city of Qom reported 50 deaths. This has prompted neighbouring states to cut travel links with Tehran amid concerns authorities failed to respond fast enough to the rapidly-spreading epidemic.
Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Armenia closed their land borders with Iran on Sunday as officials in Tehran reported three new deaths and 15 new cases in one day.
Since the infection, officially known as COVID-19, was first detected in the Iranian city of Qom on Wednesday, there has been a sharp increase in cases in the country while Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said people travelling from Iran had tested positive for the pathogen upon entering their territories.
The death toll in Iran is the highest number reported outside China, the epicentre of the outbreak, where the virus has claimed more than 2,400 lives and infected over 77,000 people.
As the virus spread in Iran, authorities closed down schools and cancelled art and film events in a bid to stem the outbreak. They also designated at least 230 hospitals across the country to treat infections.
But some medical staff are expressing concern over what they called a lack of adequate equipment at hospitals, while some members of the public accused the government of failing to take adequate preventive measures.
A senior official from the World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, expressed concern crippling sanctions imposed by the United States as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign could affect Iran’s ability to deal with the epidemic.