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South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus on a street in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The number of people infected with the new virus crossed 100,000 on Friday, with workers foregoing offices, vigorous sanitising in public places and runs on household basics.

The head of the UN’s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential of “absolute devastation” as the outbreak’s effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East, AP reported.

China reported 143 new cases on Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago. Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to 1. The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe - where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases - and beyond.

South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday.

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Cases were increasing in Germany and France, but Italy remained the centre of Europe’s outbreak, particularly in its north. The country has had 148 fatalities, making it the deadliest site for the virus outside China, AP said. The Italian government restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect older people who have been more vulnerable to succumbing to Covid-19. But with schools closed nationwide, many grandparents were called to duty as last-minute babysitters anyway.

Vatican reports first case

The Vatican said on Friday that a patient in its health services had tested positive for the coronavirus, the first in the tiny, walled city state surrounded by Rome, Reuters reported. The discovery brought the epidemic to the heart of the capital of Italy, the worst-hit European country. A Vatican spokesman said the case was diagnosed on Thursday and that services in Vatican clinics had been suspended to sanitise the areas. The Vatican has said Pope Francis, who cancelled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy, is suffering only from a cold that is “without symptoms related to other pathologies.”

Respect people’s rights: UN

Governments using lockdowns and quarantines to fight the coronavirus must ensure people’s rights are respected and avoid unintended consequences, the UN rights chief said Friday. Michelle Bachelet said the response to the Covid-19 disease must place human dignity and rights at its centre. Her office said lockdowns, quarantines and similar measures “should always be carried out in strict accordance with human rights standards and in a way that is necessary and proportionate”.

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A shopper wearing a mask is pictured near a sign advising out-of-stock sanitizer, facial masks and rubbing alcohol at a store following warnings about the coronavirus in Kirkland, Washington on March 5. Image Credit: AFP

Cruise ship in US

In the US, officials ordered a cruise ship with about 3,500 people aboard to stay back from the California coast on Thursday until passengers and crew can be tested, after a traveller from its previous voyage died of the disease and at least two others became infected. A Coast Guard helicopter lowered test kits onto the Grand Princess by rope as the vessel lay at anchor off Northern California, and authorities said the results would be available on Friday.

In Washington state, authorities were expected to close a $4 million deal on Friday to take over a roadside motel and turn the 84-room EconoLodge into a quarantine facility.

Houston officials confirmed the first three cases of coronavirus in the nation’s third-largest county, saying the three were on a trip to Egypt with multiple people, including a fourth man from a nearby suburb who a day earlier became the first Texan to have a positive test result outside of persons repatriated from abroad.

Serbia confirms first case

Serbia has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, its Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar said on Friday.

He told reporters that a 43-year-old man, who travelled to Budapest, was diagnosed with virus and that he feels well.

One mask a day in Japan

A Tokyo hospital treating coronavirus patients issued guidance last week to its doctors and nurses: only one surgical mask per staff will be allocated each day due to a supply shortage. The notice said that it only had enough in stock to last for another month so staff should use the same mask throughout the day, Bloomberg reported. “This is not how surgical masks should be used. But it is an emergency measure,” the notice said. The shortage of basic medical equipment is being felt across the country, with some doctors and nurses having to use gauze as a temporary measure to get through, according to local medical associations.

South Korea blasts Japan over virus entry restrictions

Seoul expressed “extreme regret” on Friday over Japan’s ordering 14-day quarantines on all visitors from South Korea due to a surge in viral infections and warned of retaliation if Tokyo doesn’t withdraw the restrictions, agencies reported. The response came a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the quarantine, which also applies to visitors from China.

North Korea ends quarantine of some foreigners in virus move

North Korea said Friday it has released about 220 foreigners from a quarantine. About 380 foreigners in North Korea had been placed under medical surveillance, state radio had previously reported.

New York warns televangelist Jim Bakker over virus cure claims

New York’s top law enforcement officer told televangelist Jim Bakker to stop making misleading claims about a product’s effectiveness as a treatment for coronavirus, saying there is no specific medicine available to prevent or cure the disease, Bloomberg reported.

State Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Bakker earlier this week, noting that a guest on his February 12 show touted a dietary supplement which is sold on the show’s website. The guest said the product hadn’t been tested on the current coronavirus but had been found to eliminate similar viruses within 12 hours.

European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides, third right, and European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic, second right, put their hands over their hearts in a gesture of hello to German Health Minister Jens Spahn, second left, during an extraordinary meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels to discuss the virus outbreak, on Friday. Image Credit: AP

EU health ministers begin talks

European health ministers launched crisis talks on Friday on how to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, AFP reported. “The virus is in Europe, the challenge is to slow down and contain it,” Germany’s Jens Spahn said as colleagues from the 27 EU member states arrived at the meeting. Spahn said that Germany did not yet see a need to limit free movement across borders within the union.

Cameroon confirms first case of coronavirus

Cameroon’s health ministry confirmed its first case of coronavirus, a 58-year-old French citizen who arrived in the capital Yaounde on February 24.

It said the man has been quarantined in the city’s Central Hospital. Cameroon, which is situated in Central Africa, is the fourth sub-Saharan country to report coronavirus after Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa. The total number of cases on the continent is 29.

Deaths in Singapore ‘inevitable’: minister

Singapore warned on Friday that deaths in the city state would become “inevitable” as a global pandemic emerges. “It is starting to look like a global pandemic,” said Lawrence Wong, who co-heads Singapore’s virus fighting taskforce. “It’s not going to be possible to shut ourselves out.” Singapore was one of the worst hit countries outside China in the early stages of the outbreak. But more than two months since its first case, it has kept infections to just over 100 people, most of whom have been discharged, and had no deaths.

Bhutan bans tourists after first coronavirus case, India total hits 31

Bhutan said on Friday it had banned the entry of tourists for two weeks after it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, in a tourist who arrived form neighbouring India, Reuters reported. The tiny Himalayan kingdom said a 79-year-old American who entered by air from India on March 2 had tested positive for the virus. “The government will impose two weeks restriction on all incoming tourists with immediate effect,” the health ministry said in a statement.

- with inputs from agencies