Copy of 521892-01-08-1582359235237
Medical workers wearing protective gear carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Chuncheon on February 22, 2020. South Korea reported 142 more coronavirus cases on February 22, the sharpest spike in infections yet, with more than half of the new cases linked to a hospital in a southern city. The national toll of 346 is now the second-highest outside of China. - - South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE / AFP / YONHAP / - / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE Image Credit: AFP

Seoul: South Korea reported 142 more confirmed cases of coronavirus and the death of a second patient, a 54-year-old woman, as the jump in infections outside China raises alarm among global health officials who say the window of opportunity to prevent a pandemic is closing.

The majority of new cases in South Korea were linked to members of the Shincheonji religious sect, which now accounts for 169 of the country’s confirmed 346 cases.

There are also more than 100 confirmed cases in the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Cheongdo County.

Meanwhile, China reported a sharp decrease in the number of new deaths and new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, while its central bank predicted a limited short-term economic impact and said the country was confident of winning the fight against the epidemic.

397 new confirmed cases in China

Mainland China had 397 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier, with the vast majority of those in the epicentre of Hubei province, the National Health Commission said.

Four more Australian passengers who had been evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan tested positive for the virus, Northern Territory’s health minister said Saturday.

Italy had its first fatality, a 78-year-old man who died Friday night, Venice’s regional governor said. North Italy’s Lombardy region ordered about 50,000 people in 10 municipalities to stay home because of the virus, La Repubblica reported. The number of people infected in Italy rose to 20, it said.

The World Health Organisation said 18 coronavirus patients in Iran is “very worrisome” because of the lack of any direct link to China. The country has reported four virus-related deaths, the most outside China. Japan is also seeing outbreaks in several unconnected areas, with Kyodo News reporting eight new cases in Hokkaido on Saturday.

Italy death, more cases

Italy reported its first death, a 78-year-old man who wasn’t identified, said Luca Zaia, Venice’s regional governor. He was from the town of Monselice, near the northern city of Padua, Corriere della Sera reported.

Italy reported 14 new coronavirus cases Friday, including the country’s first locally transmitted infection. That brings the total cases in the country to 17, with local media reporting that at least two more suspected patients have been hospitalised.

Iran cases cause for concern, WHO says

A cluster of cases in Iran and the first positive test in Lebanon are of particular concern because they don’t have a direct tie to China, the head of the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The WHO confirmed that there have been 18 coronavirus cases in Iran, and four deaths. That’s a mortality rate of more than 20 per cent.

“The cases that we see that are not linked to China are very worrisome,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva.

The window of opportunity to stop the spread in countries outside China is “really narrowing,” he said. “This outbreak could go in any direction.”

There was one case reported in Lebanon on Friday, which is linked to Iran. Asked if the WHO was getting the information it needs from Iranian authorities, Tedros said, “We’re getting information from them, but we have to engage them even more.”

The concern in Iran “is that we’re seeing a very rapid increase in a matter of days,” said Sylvie Briand, director of global infectious hazard preparedness at the WHO.

Risk of undetected cases outside China

About two-thirds of coronavirus cases exported from mainland China have gone undetected worldwide, potentially leaving sources of human-to-human transmission unchecked, Sangeeta Bhatia, Neil Ferguson and colleagues at Imperial College London said in study estimating potential spread of the virus.

The new estimate uses air-travel data and an analysis of data from eight countries to determine the expected numbers of exported cases from China.

They found only 156 cases had been reported, compared with an expected 426 to 577, suggesting a large number of patients outside China who haven’t been diagnosed.

“Undoubtedly, the exported cases vary in the severity of their clinical symptoms, making some cases more difficult to detect than others,” the researchers said. “However, some countries have detected significantly fewer than would have been expected based on the volume of flight passengers arriving from Wuhan City, China.”

Wuhan is the centre of the outbreak.

Middle East cases

Several countries across the Middle East confirmed new cases of the coronavirus, prompting worries about the potential for the disease to spread in the region.

The UAE on Friday reported two new cases of the virus, bringing its total count to 11. Lebanon’s health minister confirmed the country’s first coronavirus patient, a 45-year-old woman who had arrived on a flight from Iran, and said authorities suspected two other cases. He cautioned those recently arriving from Iran to remain at home for two weeks.

Iran also announced 13 new cases of the coronavirus, mainly in the city Qom where several cases were reported two days earlier, but also in the capital, Tehran, and a northern province. So far, four people in Iran have died and 18 have been confirmed infected, the health ministry said, as schools across the country announce closures in an effort to curb the disease.

Turkey’s health minister said all passengers from Iran will undergo medical checks, while Bahrain has issued an advisory against travel to Iran.

Little impact on US so far

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the coronavirus has so far had little impact on the US, where only a handful of cases have been identified and local transmission has been limited to a few close contacts of patients.

“I understand these things could change quickly. But right now, what we know, is there’s barely any impact here at home. Regrettably, both in human and economic terms, the biggest impact is China,” Kudlow told reporters at the White House Friday.

He said there had been signs of the outbreak affecting bond markets, after the yield on 10-year treasuries fell below 1.5 per cent.

“I think it’s still got a lot of coronavirus in it - a rush to safety. I don’t want to make a market forecast here, but before the virus hit in force, it was moving toward 2 per cent,” Kudlow said.