Novel coronavirus cases top 79,000 amid worsening outbreaks in South Korea and Italy

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned the novel coronavirus is the worst public health crisis facing the country since its founding, as new outbreaks continued to expand in South Korea and Italy, raising fears of a global pandemic.

Speaking Sunday, Xi said the “current epidemic situation is still severe and complex, and the prevention and control work is at the most critical stage.” The crisis is “the most difficult to prevent and control in China” since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, Xi said. He added the outbreak was likely to have a “great impact” on the country’s economy, but that epidemic prevention and control methods were beginning to have an effect.

Following Xi’s address, China announced it would delay the annual gathering of nearly 3,000 national legislators in Beijing, according to state media on Monday, underscoring the continuing impact and severity of the outbreak.

The National People’s Congress’s Standing Committed voted to delay the full session of the (NPC), the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, which had been scheduled to start on March 5. No new date has been announced.

As of Monday, there were at least 77,150 confirmed cases in mainland China, bringing the global total to

more than 79,000, with the death toll at 2,620.

A total of 27 of those deaths have occurred outside of mainland China, a major spike from a week ago, when only five deaths had taken place outside China, and most of those involving people who had a direct link to the country.

Major new outbreaks are also now developing in South Korea, Iran and Italy, with dozens of confirmed cases and multiple deaths.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Monday that 70 additional coronavirus cases have been confirmed, bringing the country’s total to 833.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the country was at a “watershed moment” Sunday, as he issued the highest level of national alert and ordered new resources to tackling the outbreak, which is largely focused on the southern city of Daegu but has spread throughout the East Asian country, including among the military.

The Ministry of Defense of South Korea confirmed Monday that an additional four soldiers had been confirmed to have contracted the virus, bringing the total of military personnel to 11. There are fears that the outbreak could spread quickly among troops living in close confines, and potentially spread to US forces stationed in Korea.