Coronavirus Live Updates: South Korean Cases Spike, and Fear Builds


South Korea reported 229 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, doubling its total in a single day and adding to concerns that another Asian country is losing control of the disease and that the window to avert a pandemic was closing.

As of Saturday, the virus had spread to 28 countries. Some 1,500 cases have been confirmed outside China; multiple infections in Italy, Iran and the United Arab Emirates; and one in Egypt, the first to be confirmed on the African continent.

Spikes in infections were also reported in the United States, which now has 34 cases, with more expected.

Panic is spreading in Israel, where a woman, who was aboard the Princess Diamond cruise ship in Japan tested positive after returning home, health officials said.

Many African countries are bracing for the disease. The World Health Organization has identified 13 as priorities because of their direct links to China or their high volume of travel to it.

The new cases in South Korea brought its total to 433. The country’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, called the situation “grave,” according to The Korea Times.

More than half of the cases are among members of a secretive religious sect who often crowd together in worship, and their relatives or contacts. Another 111 are patients or staff members at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, where the two South Koreans who have died of the virus had been admitted.

More than 1,250 members of the sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, have reported potential symptoms, and officials are still trying to locate 700 members so they can be screened.

“In accordance with law and principles, the government will sternly deal with acts that interfere with quarantine efforts, illegal hoarding of medical goods and acts that spark uneasiness through massive rallies,” Mr. Chung said.

Samsung, the Korean company that is the world’s smartphone maker, shut down a factory after a worker tested positive. The factory, located in the city of Gumi, about an hour north of Cheongdo, is expected to resume operations on Monday morning, Samsung said. But the floor of the factory where the patient has worked will be closed until Tuesday morning, it said.

A team of experts from the World Health Organization were traveling on Saturday to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus epidemic, the agency’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

Health professionals from the U.N. agency have worked on the outbreak in three Chinese provinces — Beijing, Sichuan and Guangdong — but had not yet been to the city at its heart.

Dr. Tedros confirmed the trip during an address on Saturday morning to African officials from Geneva, where he spoke of the virus’s increasing global spread and urged them to prepare for possible cases on their continent.

“We have to take advantage of the window of opportunity we have, to attack the virus outbreak with a sense of urgency,” Dr. Tedros told the leaders, who had gathered for an emergency meeting on the response to the coronavirus in the continent.

With only one confirmed case on the continent, Africa has so far been mostly spared, but health officials have warned that the spread could be deadly in countries with already-strained health systems The W.H.O. has provided online training on the coronavirus to 11,000 African health workers.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Nine South Korean tourists who spent a week visiting some of Israel’s most popular religious sites have tested positive for the coronavirus after returning home. Within hours, Israel began closing the country to South Korean travelers altogether.

Korean passengers flying on a Korean Air flight scheduled to land at Ben Gurion Airport at 7:30 p.m. Saturday would be barred entry into the country, Ynet reported late Saturday afternoon. Kan radio said that, on Sunday, the government would discuss whether to allow the other South-Korea-to-Tel Aviv flights to continue.

Israel’s health ministry ordered the immediate suspension of all tours by South Korean tourists who are currently in Israel, according to Kan radio. Health officials were working with the tourism ministry and travel agencies to book flights back to South Korea for the 1,700 South Korea tourists in Israel.

Israel suspended all flights from China on Jan. 30 in response to the outbreak of coronavirus.

The nine South Korean tourists were among a Roman Catholic tour group of 77 people, Haaretz reported. The health ministry said the pilgrims visited Israel from Feb. 8 to Feb. 15, touring Christian sites and other attractions in Netanya, Caesaria, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Beersheva, Hebron and Jerusalem.

Among the often-crowded sites the group visited were the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The health ministry said it was conducting an epidemiological investigation to identify anyone who came in contact with the group.

Twenty Israel Nature and Parks Authority employees and two Dead Sea hotel housekeeping employees who were in contact with the South Korea tourists have already been placed in quarantine, according to local reports.

Iran, which insisted as recently as Tuesday that it had no coronavirus cases, confirmed 28 cases and five deaths on Saturday, according to Iranian news reports, making it the country with the highest death toll outside of China, where the number climbed to 2,345 on Saturday.

On Saturday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director, said the organization was “especially concerned about the increase in cases in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Iran was the first country in the Middle East to declare deaths related to the virus. The head of public relations at the country’s health ministry, Kianush Jahanpur, wrote in a tweet that most of the infections came from Qom, 80 miles south of the capital, Tehran. Officials also confirmed cases in Tehran, and in the northern city of Rasht.

Already, cases of travelers from Iran testing positive for the virus have turned up in Canada and Lebanon, and on Saturday, the United Arab Emirates said two Iranian travelers had the virus, raising that country’s total cases to 13.

Kuwait Airways announced Saturday that it will evacuate from Mashhad, Iran, more than 700 Kuwaiti nationals.

As Iran holds parliamentary elections this weekend, many voters in Qom lined up in front of voting stations wearing masks, according to videos from Iranian news agencies.

Conflicting news reports emerged on Saturday about the mayor of a district of Tehran, who was said to have been hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms on Friday. But the semiofficial news agency Fars later denied that the mayor, Morteza Rahmanzadeh, had been hospitalized, saying he was in good health.

“The cases that we see in the rest of the world, although the numbers are small, but not linked to Wuhan or China, it’s very worrisome,” Dr. Tedros said on Friday. “These dots are actually very concerning.”

An American woman whose coronavirus diagnosis upended the travel plans of thousands of cruise ship passengers, as well as raising fears that another vector of transmission was going global, is now free of the virus, Malaysian officials said on Saturday.

On Feb. 15, the Malaysian health authorities said that the woman, 83, an American passenger who had disembarked from the Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia, had tested positive for coronavirus after arriving at the Kuala Lumpur airport.

Passengers had begun leaving the Westerdam the day before in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where they were welcomed personally by Prime Minister Hun Sen, after the ship had been turned away from several other ports. The cruise ship’s owner and Cambodian officials maintained that all of the Westerdam’s passengers were virus-free, even though only 20 among the more than 2,000 people aboard had been tested for the coronavirus.

With the news from Malaysia that the American, who has not been publicly identified, had tested positive — and that a second test had confirmed the result — a Cambodian lab went into overdrive. The government-affiliated lab tested every passenger still in the country for coronavirus, while health experts worried that those who had already left might be unwittingly spreading the virus across the globe.

On Saturday, the Malaysian health director general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said in a statement that the American woman was now clear of the coronavirus and was being monitored in the hospital with a “slight cough,” after an antiretroviral treatment.

About 80 percent of patients who contracted this strain of coronavirus had mild symptoms, Dr. Noor noted, citing data from the World Health Organization.

The announcement led to a furious response from Mr. Hun Sen, who accused the Malaysians of shoddy lab work. The woman never had coronavirus at all, Mr. Hun Sen claimed.

“The irresponsibility of some foreigners on the health test of Westerdam passengers makes Cambodia the victim of its humanitarian work,” Mr. Hun Sen said in a Facebook post on Saturday. “If I were the Malaysian P.M., I would remove the health minister for being neglectful and irresponsible.”

Dr. Noor, the Malaysian health director general, did not retract the earlier positive test results in his statement. The World Health Organization on Saturday said it had no update on the woman’s test results.

No other infections have been found among passengers on the Westerdam, and so the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday told state and local health departments that the American passengers need not self-quarantine and were subject to no further travel restrictions.

Just days after releasing nearly 1,000 passengers from the cruise ship quarantined for two weeks in the port of Yokohama that has been a coronavirus hot spot, Japan’s health minister admitted that 23 passengers had been mistakenly cleared to leave without taking a valid recent test.

In a news briefing on Saturday night, the health minister, Katsunobu Kato, apologized for the mishap, in which the passengers left the ship, the Diamond Princess, on Wednesday and Thursday although they had not been tested for the coronavirus since before the ship went into lockdown on Feb. 5.

In certifying that the passengers posed “no risk of infection,” the Japanese Health Ministry said it had tested them and checked for symptoms as they disembarked.

Mr. Kato said that all 23 mistakenly cleared passengers had left the ship and boarded some form of public transportation. He said none of them had reported any symptoms so far and 20 had already agreed to be retested, with three negative tests so far.

Although several governments that evacuated citizens from the ship — including those in the United States, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea — confined them for an additional 14 days at home, Japan said that passengers who had tested negative for coronavirus and showed no symptoms could leave starting this week.

On Tuesday, the day after news emerged that 14 passengers who had tested positive were being flown to the United States, President Trump was furious, a senior American official said. The decision to fly them into the country had taken him by surprise.

Mr. Trump is a self-declared “germophobe.”

The Washington Post reported on Mr. Trump’s anger on Friday.

The previous day, William Walters, a State Department official, told reporters that the decision had been made by the department in consultation with Robert Kadlec, a Health and Human Services official, shortly after Japanese officials had informed American counterparts of the laboratory test results, as the 15 or so buses were en route from the Diamond Princess to the tarmac at Haneda airport.

On the subject of the passengers released untested, Mr. Kato said that public health officers who had been conducting the tests missed the 23 passengers as they went door to door.

“While they made their multiple rounds to take samples, some passengers left their rooms to go outside and do exercise or something,” he said, “so they were unavailable.”

A total of 634 people tested positive on board the cruise ship, and two passengers infected with the coronavirus have died.

Dozens of British and European passengers from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship the Diamond Princess arrived in Britain on Saturday, after weeks trapped onboard the ship off Japan, according to Britain’s Foreign Office.

A repatriation flight landed at the Boscombe Down military base in southern England with 32 people aboard, who were expected to be placed under a 14-day quarantine.

The passengers arrived as Britain’s National Health Service said it was trying out home tests for the coronavirus in London. Prof. Keith Willett, the strategic incident director for the outbreak at the N.H.S., said in a statement that letting medical staff visit potential coronavirus patients at home was “safer for you and your family and limits the spread of infection.” Home tests may be expanded to other cities in the coming weeks.

The British authorities said at least nine people in the country had tested positive for the virus. Elsewhere in Europe, there have been 12 confirmed cases in France, 16 in Germany, and 46 in Italy, among other countries.

Airline revenue down $29 billion. Auto sales in China cratering. Supply chains snapped.

The coronavirus outbreak, whose breadth and duration remains a disquieting question mark, is forcing international companies across nearly every industry to face a stark reality: Business will not go on as usual.

And investors have taken notice. U.S. stocks fell for the second straight day on Friday, with the S&P closing more than 1 percent lower, putting it on pace for its worst day of the month. Oil and gas prices also fell.

Auto sales in China collapsed this month, with the Chinese Passenger Car Association saying that sales at dealerships had plummeted 92 percent in the first half of February compared with the same period last year. China is the world’s biggest car market by a wide margin, so a nose-dive in sales causes pain.

The International Air Transport Association this week warned of a deep drop in earnings of about $29 billion in this year among global carriers, with virtually all of the losses expected to hit airlines in the Asia-Pacific region.

A dozen coronavirus cases have been confirmed at a single nursing home in Wuhan, China, the city at the center of the epidemic. Public health experts have said that nursing homes are among the most dangerous sites for transmission of the virus.

The elderly have been particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, with many of the reported deaths occurring among people 60 and older. And nursing homes often house their residents in close quarters, which facilitates the rapid spread of viruses.

The nursing home, the Wuhan Social Welfare Institute, said 11 elderly residents and an employee had been confirmed to have the virus, according to a notice from the municipal civil affairs bureau in Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged. One of the residents has died, the notice said.

The nursing home also reported 19 suspected infections, involving 12 employees and seven residents.

“I think nursing homes would be the most dangerous place for an outbreak to occur,” said Dr. Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.

In an indication of the risks that nursing homes pose, officials in recent days have moved to impose restrictions on how they provide care.

The Wuhan Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs recently told nursing home directors that in order to prevent cross-infections, residents would no longer be allowed to return to their nursing homes if they visited a hospital for medical treatment, according to a report by the news outlet Southern Weekly. The report was removed by government censors.

In the city of Qiqihar, near the Chinese border with Russia, a district party secretary was removed from his post because he had not done enough to prevent the epidemic, according to an official notice on Feb. 15. Of 10 confirmed cases in the district he oversaw, one occurred in a nursing home, the notice said.

In the eastern province of Zhejiang, an official recently said that the province had been the first in China to seal off nursing homes, barring all from entering except for some essential staff members.

“Everyone knows that the elderly are the key group for epidemic prevention and control, and nursing homes are a place where the elderly live in high concentration,” said the official, Li Jie.

Reporting and research were contributed by Hannah Beech, Liz Alderman, Vivian Wang, Choe Sang-Hun, Elian Peltier, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Farnaz Fassihi, Steven Lee Myers, Elaine Yu, Marc Santora, Matt Philips, Niraj Chokshi, Amie Tsang, Keith Bradsher, Amber Wang, Yiwei Wang, Ed Wong, David Halbfinger and Derrick Bryson Taylor.





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