February 23 coronavirus news

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6:46 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Italian coronavirus cases surge to 132 as officials struggle to track down patient zero

Some 132 people in Italy have been infected with coronavirus, the head of the country’s Civil Protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, announced at a Sunday press conference. 

Of those cases, 26 people are in intensive care, two have died and one has recovered, he said.

Italian authorities still have not tracked down the first carrier of coronavirus in the country, he added.

“We still cannot identify patient zero, so it's difficult to forecast possible new cases,” Borrelli said.

6:44 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Three Serie A soccer matches cancelled over Italy coronavirus fears

Three Italian football matches have been suspended following measures "adopted by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus," Serie A announced in a press release.

The three suspended games -- Inter Milan and Sampdoria, Atalanta and Sassuolo, and Hellas Verona and Cagliari -- were scheduled to be played in the regions of Veneto and Lombardy.

7:58 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Iran confirms 43 coronavirus cases and 8 deaths 

A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus in downtown Tehran on February 23.
A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus in downtown Tehran on February 23. Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Eight people in Iran have died after catching the novel coronavirus, and 43 have so far been infected, the country's health ministry confirmed on Sunday.

Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanport told state media that 15 new cases were identified in the last 24 hours. 

The outbreak in Iran began in the holy city of Qom, according to state media. 

Iran’s government announced on Sunday that universities and schools in 14 provinces, including in the capital Tehran, will be closed for a week. 

Soccer matches in different leagues will continue but in empty stadiums, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA.  

6:18 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

"Like a 19th century witch-hunt," says Shincheonji religious group member over coronavirus criticism

Picture of the shuttered building in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul.
Picture of the shuttered building in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul. Ivan Watson/CNN

The South Korean religious group at the center of a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases in the country has rejected a storm of criticism over the outbreak.

Roughly half of the more than 600 cases in South Korea are associated with the controversial religious group, leading to 9,300 Shincheonji members being put into self-isolation.

Outside a shuttered building in Seoul that houses offices and places of worship for Shincheonji, a shopkeeper called the group "heretics" in an interview with CNN.

But Kim So-il, a project director at Shincheonji, defended the group, saying it was in "great difficulty" right now.

“It’s unfair that all people rebuke Shincheonji,” he told CNN. “It’s like a 19th century witch-hunt.”

That was the view reflected by a Shincheonji spokesperson in a televised press conference Sunday, who said the religious group's members are the "biggest victims'" of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.

"COVID-19 is a disease that originated in China and spread to South Korea," the spokesperson said.

"We are sincerely urging everyone recognize that the Shincheonji Church and its devotees are the biggest victims of COVID-19, and refrain from hate and groundless attack."

The Shincheonji is centered around the personality of its founder and chairman, Lee Man-hee. On a website believed to be the group's official homepage, the group heavily suggests that Lee is the "Promised Pastor" mentioned in the Bible. The passage it highlights suggests that the Promised Pastor is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Members of the group congregate in a way that puts them in close contact with one another for long periods of time.

Jung Eun-Kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press briefing on Friday: "(We are) seeing that there is a possibility that the characteristics of many people sitting close together in a very confined space and holding service for more than an hour ... (could have led to) a few who were exposed infecting many (other) infectees."

The group has said that it "deeply regrets" the outbreak which occurred in their branch in the southern city of Daegu.

Read more about the group here

5:25 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Hong Kong confirms five additional coronavirus cases, bringing total to 74

Hong Kong health officials confirmed five additional cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, bringing the city-wide total to 74.

One of the newly discovered cases is a 68-year-old male who was evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship earlier this week, Dr Chuang Shuk-Kwan from the Center for Health Protection said at a press conference.

As of February 23, 12 patients have successfully been treated and discharged from hospital. 

5:18 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Coronavirus cases in Italy rise to more than 100

Hospital personnel in Codogno, Italy, carry new beds inside the hospital on Friday, February 21. The hospital is hosting some people who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Hospital personnel in Codogno, Italy, carry new beds inside the hospital on Friday, February 21. The hospital is hosting some people who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Luca Bruno/AP

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has surpassed 100, after 44 new cases were confirmed on Sunday, according to authorities.

Most of the cases are focused in the northern regions of Lombardy (which has 89 cases), Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Piedmont.

Health officials are expected to hold a press conference on Sunday to update the public with the total numbers for the country.

4:58 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

South Korea extends school holiday for a week

The winter vacation for South Korean kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools has been extended for a week, the country's education ministry said Sunday, after coronavirus cases there surged past 600.

Instead of March 2, schools will now open on March 9.

4:41 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Judge blocks transfer of coronavirus patients to city in Southern California

Travis Air Force Base
Travis Air Force Base Hector Amezcua/AP

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the transfer of people infected with the coronavirus to a city in Southern California until a hearing set for this week.

Costa Mesa city filed legal action late Friday against the state of California and various federal agencies after it discovered they were planning to use Fairview Development Center to quarantine patients who've tested positive for the coronavirus.

It said the center is close to residential areas and not suitable to house the patients, citing a risk to public health.

"We learned late Thursday that patients could begin arriving as early as Sunday," Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement. "Filing this injunction was the only way to halt the process to allow everyone in Costa Mesa and Orange County to understand the plans in place to protect the patients as well as our community and the region."

Read the rest of the article here

3:38 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

South Korea coronavirus cases rise to 602, five deaths

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday that 46 additional coronavirus cases have been confirmed, bringing the country’s total to 602.

Of the total cases, 309 or about 55% have links to the Shincheonji religious group in the city of Daegu, according to authorities.

Five people in the country who had coronavirus have died, with the most recent death being confirmed Sunday afternoon.

About 5,000 to 6,000 people are being tested for coronavirus every day, authorities said.