Novel coronavirus infects more than 88,000 worldwide as clusters spread

CNN  — 

The death toll from the novel coronavirus has passed 3,000 worldwide, as outbreaks in Italy and Iran continue to worsen and dozens of countries reported their first cases of the highly infectious illness.

The virus, formally known as Covid-19, has infected more than 88,400 people since the outbreak began last December in Wuhan, China.

The vast majority of cases and deaths are still in mainland China, concentrated in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital – however, despite travel bans, mass quarantines and emergency measures in China, it continues to spread.

The virus has reached every continent except Antarctica, with outbreak clusters in Italy and Iran rapidly spreading to nearby countries. Case numbers are rising in Canada, the United States, South Korea, and other newly-infected places.

The first cases have also reached Latin America and Africa; in the latter, the virus has been reported in Egypt, Nigeria, and Algeria, raising concern of a possible spread across the continent.

Italy and Iran outbreaks

Iran and Italy are at the heart of the outbreaks in the Middle East and Europe. In the past 10 days, 37 countries have confirmed their first cases, mainly in these regions.

Iran now has 978 cases and 54 deaths, since announcing its first case of novel coronavirus on February 19. Neighboring countries including Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, and others have closed borders with Iran or implemented travel restrictions.

Schools have been widely suspended in Pakistan, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other countries.

Meanwhile, Italy now has 1,694 cases and 34 deaths – the most coronavirus cases of any country outside of Asia. And it’s not slowing down – on Sunday, Italy reported a 50% increase in cases compared to the previous day.

Several cities and towns in the country’s north are under lockdown, with movement limited in or out of affected areas – effectively quarantining 100,000 people.

Other countries like the US have also implemented travel restrictions to and from Italy. Two American airlines have suspended flights to Milan.

Authorities in Europe are taking precautions to prevent large gatherings of people. Many public spaces like the Louvre in Paris and Milan’s La Scala opera house have closed, while crowded events like the Paris half-marathon have been canceled. A French official advised against a long-time French tradition – cheek-kissing – to avoid close physical contact.

Spreading across the Americas

New cases of the virus have begun emerging in North and South America in recent days.

Canada now has 24 cases, spread across Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec.

The United States has 89 confirmed cases – including 44 evacuated passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three repatriated from Wuhan, 38 cases that were detected and tested on US soil and four cases “presumed positive.”

The US also reported its first two deaths this weekend – one on Saturday, and one late Sunday. Both were in Washington state, where authorities are investigating a possible outbreak at a nursing facility.

New York, Rhode Island, and Florida also reported their first cases this weekend. Patients in all three states had recently traveled to virus-hit countries – one to Iran, and two to Italy.

President Donald Trump warned the American public that more cases were “likely,” but urged them not to panic at a news conference on Saturday. He is expected to visit the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this week.

Meanwhile, new cases in Latin and South America have raised concerns; Brazil reported its first case on February 26, marking the first time the virus had reached the continent. Only days later, Mexico, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic reported their first cases.

“For several weeks, countries in the Americas have been preparing for the possible importation of cases of Covid-19,” said Carissa F Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in a statement on February 26 after Brazil reported its first case.

“A multi-sectoral response to ensure strengthened surveillance, health service readiness, preventing spread, and maintaining essential services, are key interventions to slow transmission and save lives.”

South Korea

In Asia, the spotlight is on South Korea, which has over 4,200 cases and 26 deaths. The youngest patient there is a 45-day-old baby.

About 60% of all nationwide cases are linked to the Shincheonji religious group and its branch in the southern city of Daegu, which has reported more than 2,500 cases.

The group, an offshoot of Christianity, faces a legal complaint filed by the Seoul city government on charges including homicide, the city announced in a news release today.

The group has been accused of withholding information or hampering officials’ investigation into the virus – but its leaders have vehemently denied these allegations.

“I’m sure there have been areas where we could have done better but we do want to emphasize that we did our best in the situation,” Kim Shin-chang, Shincheonji director of international missions, told CNN Sunday.

Kim insisted that the group had been fully transparent and cooperative, and denied the government’s claim that Shincheonji members had traveled from Wuhan to South Korea.

“It makes me wonder if (the government ministry) are trying to exaggerate the link or possibly move the responsibility to Shincheonji,” he said.

South Korean authorities have contacted at least a third of all Shincheonji members, and warn that the number of cases may keep increasing in the coming days as they track down and test the remaining members for coronavirus.