Pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus, in downtown Tehran.
Pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus, in downtown Tehran. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The coronavirus pandemic took a turn for the worse yesterday, especially in the Middle East, after Iranian state media reported that 50 people had died of the disease in the city of Qom alone. This makes Iran the biggest victims of the disease outside China. A lawmaker also confirmed this figure, though the ministry insisted that only 12 had died. Oman has stopped flights to Iran.

This also comes as Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Iraq confirmed their first cases. The one common link to all cases in the Middle East is the Iran connection. And when it comes to the coronavirus, the city of Qom has become to Iran what Wuhan is to China. The Kuwaiti infections were linked to people returning from Mashhad, a pilgrim city in Iran, while two Omani women diagnosed with the disease had also visited Iran. Cases in Bahrain, Iraq, and Lebanon also are directly linked to the outbreak in Iran. The UAE has also banned its citizens from travelling to Iran and Thailand as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus. Tajikistan, Oman and Turkey joined a growing list of countries suspending flights and travel to and from Iran.

Copy of Iran_Virus_Outbreak_05758.jpg-42d65~1-1582556824436
People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Iran's health ministry raised Sunday the death toll from the new virus to 8 people in the country, amid concerns that clusters there, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) Image Credit: AP

In another grim development, China announced 150 more deaths, taking the total to 2,600. More than 79,000 people globally, including 77,000 in China alone.

Hyper-connected world

A big takeaway from the past few weeks is just how quickly a new virus can spread around the world in our hyper-connected age. There has been widespread fear and disruption as a result of the virus, from border closures to cancellations of key events. “It seems that the virus can pass from person to person without symptoms, making it extremely difficult to track, regardless of what health authorities do,” said Simon Clarke, Cellular Microbiology associate professor at Reading University in England. The full global economic fallout of the disease is yet to be ascertained.

South Korea badly hit

Bloomberg reported that South Korea continued to see a rapid rise in infections, ever since a cluster sprouted in a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu last week. More than 200 infections and two more deaths were reported in South Korea on Monday, bringing the total cases to more than 830 - by far the most outside China.

Eight people have died from the virus there, and President Moon Jae-in over the weekend raised the country’s virus alert to the highest “red” level. As part of the containment efforts, school holidays were extended nationally while the 2.5 million people of Daegu were told to remain indoors.

Italy in lockdown

Italy, the country with the most confirmed cases in Europe, reported its fifth death and the number of people contracting the disease continues to mount, with 219 people now testing positive.

Copy of 538317-01-08-1582556831386
Italian troops conduct controls and give indications to drivers at a checkpoint. Image Credit: Agencies

Over 50,000 residents in 11 towns are under lockdown - 10 in the Lombardy region and one in neighbouring Veneto.

The spread of the virus disrupts high-profile events including Milan Fashion Week and the Venice Carnival. Serie A football matches have been postponed and operas are cancelled at Milan’s La Scala.

Praise for China

Copy of 2020-02-24T074149Z_469963066_RC2V6F9P9R03_RTRMADP_3_CHINA-HEALTH-HONGKONG [1]-1582556828409
Newly-wed couples wear protective masks as they take wedding photos in Hong Kong. Image Credit: Agencies

The World Health Organisation has said that the near-total lockdown of impacted places instituted by China may have averted hundreds of thousands of cases. The WHO also said that Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental drug that is being tested for coronavirus may be the only one that will work.

Stocks plunge

World stock markets and oil prices tumble on growing fears from the crisis. Milan’s stock market dives almost five per cent and Seoul 3.9 per cent. Elsewhere in Europe, Frankfurt fell 3.7 per cent, London lost 3.5 per cent, Madrid was down 3.3 per cent and Paris shed 3.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, gold hits a seven-year peak as investors turn to the precious metal as a safety measure.

The International Monetary Fund warned the epidemic could put an already fragile global economic recovery at risk.

–With inputs from agencies