China coronavirus outbreak: All the latest updates

Viral infection has now spread to nine Middle Eastern countries, with more than 79,000 cases worldwide.

Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Iraq and Oman on Monday reported their first infections from the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,600 globally, the vast majority in China.

Kuwait reported three cases, Oman two and Bahrain and Iraq each confirmed one, bringing the number of countries in the Middle East with the virus – officially known as COVID-19 – to nine.

Meanwhile, Turkey, Pakistan and Armenia have closed their borders with Iran, where authorities reported 61 coronavirus infections and 12 deaths.

China had 150 new confirmed deaths from the coronavirus on Sunday, the National Health Commission announced.

The death toll nationwide on Monday had climbed to 2,595 among 77,262 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization.

South Korea’s cases continued to balloon, reaching 833 with seven confirmed deaths.

And in Italy, seven deaths have been reported in the country’s north and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 229, prompting emergency measures in a number of Europeam countries.

Here are the latest updates:

Click here for February 25 updates.

Monday, February 24

Kuwait suspends flights to and from Iraq: state news agency

Kuwait’s civil aviation authority has suspended all its flights to and from Iraq over fears about the coronavirus, state news agency KUNA reported.

The statement was issued in accordance with the Kuwaiti health ministry’s instructions.

Impact on economy could be ‘very strong’: Italy’s PM Conte

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy could be “very strong”.

“The economic impact could be very strong. At this moment we can calculate that there will be a negative economic impact, we are not yet in a position to forecast what will happen,” he told reporters.

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte leaves the Civil Protection agency building after attending a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak in the country
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte leaves the Civil Protection agency building in Rome after attending a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak in Italy [Remo Casilli/Reuters]

China bans trade and consumption of wild animals

China has banned trade and consumption of wild animals being farmed or in captivity, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Hunting, trade and transport for consumption are now banned, with any transgression to be severely punished, Xinhua reported.

Even use of wild animals in scientific research or for medicinal purposes is to be strongly supervised and requires a permit.

Saudi Aramco CEO expects impact on oil to be short-lived

Saudi Aramco expects the coronavirus impact on oil demand to be short-lived and for consumption to rise in the second half of the year, Chief Executive Amin Nasser told Reuters.

Oil prices have fallen this year as the rapid spread of the coronavirus in China, the world’s largest energy consumer, has dented demand. Prices fell again on Monday as the number of cases in countries outside China continued to climb.

“We think this is short term and I am confident that in the second half of the year there is going to be an improvement on the demand side, especially from China,” he said.

World must avert ‘dramatic’ effects on health, economy: Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries to prevent the coronavirus epidemic from spiralling into a crisis with “dramatic consequences” for global health and the world economy.

Guterres, speaking to reporters during a visit to the World Health Organization (WHO) centre for managing emergencies, called for fully funding the agency’s appeal of $675m to cover its overall response for three months.

WHO funding appeals were vital to support governments and “avoid this tragic disease” from becoming “a global nightmare”, Guterres said.

Asian stocks, currencies fall sharply

Shares and currencies across Asia slumped as the number of coronavirus infections rose sharply in South Korea, Italy and Iran, sending investors scurrying to safe havens such as gold.

Gold soared to a seven-year high while in South Korea, the won fell nearly 1 percent to its lowest since August and stocks dropped more than 3 percent.

Read more here.

China postpones key political meetings because of virus

China announced it postponed its most important political meetings of the year because of the outbreak of the new virus, a significant step for an authoritarian government that has always kept tight control over its political calendar.

The annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and its chief advisory body usually begin about March 5 and run for more than two weeks, bringing thousands of delegates to Beijing for discussions, speeches and political ceremony.

China delays biggest political event over coronavirus

White House may seek $1bn for coronavirus response: report

The White House could request close to $1bn from US lawmakers to help boost the nation’s response to the coronavirus, the Washington Post reported citing three unnamed people briefed on the plan.

The White House’s request may be sent to Congress in a few days, the newspaper reported.

World must prepare for ‘potential pandemic’: WHO chief

The World Health Organization chief said the world should be working harder to contain the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, and should be preparing for a “potential pandemic”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that so far, the WHO does not consider the outbreak that has killed more than 2,600 people a pandemic, but said countries should be “doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic”.

“The sudden increase of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning,” Ghebreyesus said.

Read more here.

WHO news conference on the novel coronavirus (COVID-2019)
The WHO director said this was “not a time of fear” but time to take action to save lives  [ File: Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

Health ministers from Italy, nearby countries to meet

Health ministers from Italy and countries in its vicinity have decided to meet on Tuesday in Rome to discuss the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Ministers from Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, France and Germany are set to coordinate their policies with their Italian counterpart, Austria’s health chief Rudolf Anschober announced at a press conference in Vienna.

Tajikistan suspends air links with Iran

Tajikistan has suspended flights to and from Iran due to the spread of the new coronavirus there, the Central Asian nation’s government said.

The air link will remain suspended until the virus situation in Iran stabilises, the Civil Aviation Agency said in a statement.

Seventh person dies in Italy

A seventh person has died in the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, news agency ANSA reported, while the number of confirmed cases rose to more than 220.

ANSA said the latest person to die was an 80-year-old man who had been taken to hospital last week in Lodi after suffering a heart attack.

Doctors believe he caught the virus there from another patient.

Oman reports two cases of coronavirus

Oman reported its first two cases of coronavirus, and halted flights to and from Iran with immediate effect, authorities and reports said.

The Ministry of Health confirmed that the two infected citizens who had returned from Iran are in a stable condition and subject to quarantine at home.

The civil aviation authority said in a tweet that it was “suspending all civilian flights between the sultanate and the Islamic Republic of Iran starting today and until further notice”.

Iran denies virus coverup after claim of 50 deaths

Iran’s government vowed to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing a lawmaker’s claim the toll could be as high as 50.

The government announced Iran’s coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 – by far the highest outside China.

But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was “lying”.

“As of last night, about 50 people have died” from the coronavirus in Qom alone, ILNA news agency, which is close to reformists, quoted him as saying after a closed session of parliament on the crisis.

The government rejected the claim.

Sixth person dies in Italy

A sixth person has died in the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, state broadcaster RAI reported.

It said the person was a cancer patient in the northern town of Brescia.

Coronavirus precautions in Italy
Women wear respiratory masks in Milan, Italy. The Lombardy is one of the most affected regions in Italy by the infection of the Coronavirus [Pier Marco Tacca/Anadolu Agency]

Tokyo 2020 preparation unaffected

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains confident that this summer’s Tokyo Games can take place as planned, despite a growing number of sports events being cancelled around the world.

“The preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 continue as planned. Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of Tokyo 2020’s plans to host a safe and secure Games,” the IOC said.

Vietnam tells banks to cut or delay loan payments from virus-hit firms

Vietnam’s central bank ordered commercial banks to eliminate, cut or delay interest payments on loans to companies facing losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The order applies to all payments due January 23 to March 30,” the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) said on its website.

“Commercial banks have to assess losses the companies are enduring since the outbreak and ensure to maintain creditworthiness for future loans,” it added.

Hong Kong to bar non-resident arrivals from South Korea

Hong Kong will close its doors Tuesday to all arrivals from South Korea except returning city residents in response to the growing coronavirus outbreak, the territory’s security chief said.

“Considering the development of the epidemic in South Korea, the Security Bureau will issue a red travel alert,” John Lee told reporters.

The notice means anyone who has been in South Korea in the last fortnight will be denied entry to the international finance hub.

Hong Kong residents will be allowed to return, but will have to undergo a fortnight of medical surveillance.

China says more than 3,000 medical staff infected

More than 3,000 medical staff in China have been infected by the new coronavirus that emerged in the country late last year, an official at China’s National Health Commission has said.

Liang Wannian told reporters during a joint press briefing with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) delegation to China, Bruce Aylward, the infections have mostly occurred in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak that has killed nearly 2,600 to date in the mainland. The infections were likely due to the lack of protective gear and fatigue, he said

Coronavirus China
Nurses distribute meals to patients at a temporary hospital situated in the Tazihu Gymnasium in Wuhan, Hubei province [Yuan Zheng/EPA]

Turkish Airlines cancels flights to four Iranian cities

Turkish Airlines has cancelled its flights to four Iranian cities and decreased the frequency of flights to Tehran until February 27.

The company said it cancelled flights to Mashhad, Isfahan, Tabriz and Shiraz until that date. It also decreased the frequency of Tehran flights to two per day. Turkey has already closed its land border with Iran and halted incoming flights.

Mauritius blocks some Italian visitors over coronavirus concerns

An Alitalia plane landed in Mauritius on Monday but some of the passengers and crew opted to return straight home after being told they would have to go into quarantine because of local concerns over the coronavirus, the airline said.

Some 224 passengers and crew had been aboard the flight from Rome to the Indian Ocean island. Forty people from the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto decided to head home because of the quarantine threat, Alitalia said in a statement. 

Fifth person dies in northern Italy

A fifth person infected with the coronavirus has died in Italy, the chief of the Civil Protection agency has said, with more than 200 cases reported in the north of the country since Friday.

Italian media reported that the dead patient was 88 and came from the region of Lombardy. The four other people who have died of the illness were also elderly and at least three of them had been suffering serious underlying health problems.

Pakistan quarantines 200 near Iran border 

Pakistan began quarantining at least 200 people near the Iranian border, officials said, as fears spiralled over the growing toll from the coronavirus in the region amid allegations of a cover up in Iran.

In Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province authorities quarantined at least 200 people after Shia Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran entered the country and briefly interacted with other residents. The quarantine announcement came shortly after Pakistan sealed off its land border with Iran.

Iraq confirms first case

Iraq has confirmed its first novel coronavirus case, an Iranian national living in the southern city of Najaf, according to health officials.

Iraq had blocked travel to and from Iran days before announcing that the religious seminary student in Najaf is its first confirmed case. The case brings the total countries in the Middle East with confirmed cases to eight. 

Iranian health ministry says death toll remains at 12

Twelve people have died and up to 61 have been infected with the new coronavirus, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi has said during a news conference on state TV, rebutting claims from a member of parliament that 50 people had died in the country from the virus.

“We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a news conference aired live on state television.

iran coronavirus
Iranians buy protective masks in a drug store to prevent contracting a coronavirus, in Tehran [Reuters]

Iranian member of parliament says the death toll in Qom is 50

A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, a member of parliament from the city of Qom has said, according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency.

“He is accusing the health ministry of not being transparent with the official death toll, he claims that more than 50 people have already died from the virus in Qom,” Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said.”Now this is something the health ministry has not confirmed yet.”

China postpones parliament for first time in decades

China has decided to postpone the annual meeting of its parliament due in March for the first time since the Cultural Revolution, as the country fights to contain the coronavirus outbreak, state media reported.

The standing committee of the National People’s Congress will decide on a new date later, state broadcaster CCTV said.

EU: Any travel restrictions should be proportionate, coordinated

European Union health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has said possible travel restrictions in the Schengen border-free area should be proportionate and coordinated among EU states, as the bloc faces a coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

“For the moment WHO has not advised imposing restrictions on either travel or trade,” Kyriakides told reporters on Monday, adding that a mission of the World Health Organization will go to Italy on Tuesday to assess the situation

South Korea top flight postpones start of season due to coronavirus: Report

South Korea’s professional football league has postponed the start of the new season due to the surge in coronavirus cases in the country, Yonhap news agency reported.

The K League made the decision to postpone all matches at an emergency board meeting in Seoul. The 2020 season had been due to kick-off on Saturday. The league had also asked its four teams in the AFC Champions League, the continent’s elite club competition, to hold matches behind closed doors, Yonhap reported.

South Korea reports 70 new cases

South Korea has reported 70 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total in the country to 833 infections, according to health authorities.

South Korea coronavirus
Medical workers wearing protective gear transfer a suspected coronavirus patient to another hospital from Daenam Hospital where a total of 16 infections have now been identified with the coronavirus [Yonhap/AFP]

Fourth person dies in coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy: RAI radio

A fourth person infected with the coronavirus has died in Italy, RAI radio has reported, as officials struggle to contain an outbreak of the illness in the north of the country with around 150 cases reported since Friday.

The dead patient was in his 80s and had been in hospital for treatment for an unrelated illness when he was struck down by coronavirus, RAI said. The three other people who have died of the illness were also elderly and at least two of them had been suffering serious underlying health problems.

Iran coronavirus death toll rises by four to 12: Report

Four more people have died of coronavirus in Iran, a spokesman for parliament has said, bringing to 12 the country’s overall death toll from the outbreak.

“The minister of health announced the deaths of 12 people and 47 cases of infection in the country,” Assadollah Abbassi was quoted as saying by semi-official news agency ISNA after a closed session of parliament.

Iranian women wearing protective masks to prevent  contracting a coronavirus walk at Grand Bazaar in Tehran
Iranian women wearing protective masks to prevent contracting a coronavirus walk at Grand Bazaar in Tehran [Reuters]

WHO says it has phased out use of ‘pandemic’ to describe outbreaks

The World Health Organization (WHO) no longer has a process for declaring a pandemic, but the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak remains an international emergency, a spokesman said.

“There is no official category (for a pandemic),” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. “WHO does not use the old phasing system that some people may be familiar with from 2009. Under the IHR (International Health Regulations), WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern.”

China not considering travel advisories

China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Beijing was not considering issuing travel advisories for countries such as South Korea and Japan that are reporting an increase in coronavirus cases.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the remarks during a press briefing in Beijing

Afghanistan confirms first case, declares provincial state of emergency

Afghanistan’s minister of public health has said the country had identified its first case of coronavirus.

Ferozuddin Feroz, the minister of public health, told a press conference in Kabul one of three suspected cases had been confirmed in the Western province of Herat. He announced a state of emergency in the province, which borders Iran.

France Coronavirus
A woman wears a protective mask in light of the coronavirus outbreak in China as she walks at the Trocadero esplanade in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

French minister: No need to close border with Italy

French junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has said that he saw no need to close down transport borders between France and Italy, despite the spread of coronavirus.

“Closing down the borders would make no sense, as the circulation of the virus is not just limited to administrative borders,” Djebbari told BFM Business, referencing the recent outbreak in Italy, where cases have risen to more than 150.

Virus epicentre Wuhan revokes announcement easing lockdown

An announcement that the Chinese city of Wuhan would relax some of its travel restrictions and allow some people to leave was made without authorisation and has been revoked, the local government said.

The city at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak said it would continue to impose strict controls over its borders in order to prevent the virus from spreading further. It added it had reprimanded the people responsible for the earlier announcement that healthy people would be allowed to leave if they had vital business.

Qatar to quarantine passengers arriving from Iran, South Korea

Qatar will ask passengers arriving from Iran and South Korea to remain in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days over fears of new coronavirus outbreak, Qatar Airways said in a statement.

Qatar has not yet reported a confirmed case of the virus.

Restrictions placed on some Lebanon residents

Lebanon’s health ministry has asked parents who recently visited countries severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak not to send their children to school for 15 days, Lebanon’s health minister has said, according to local media.

“In accordance with the education minister, we ask parents who were in Iran or in countries that have been found to have coronavirus infections not to send their children to school or university for 15 days as a precautionary measure,” Health Minister Hamad Hasan told local TV channel LBCI. Lebanon confirmed its first case on Friday.

Iraq closes border crossing with Kuwait amid coronavirus spread

Iraq has shut its Safwan border crossing with Kuwait to travellers and trade at Kuwait’s request, the local mayor has told Reuters news agency without providing a reason.

Kuwait said on Monday three people, including a Saudi national, who returned from Iran were infected by the new coronavirus. Meanwhile, Iraq extended on Saturday an entry ban for any non-Iraqis coming from Iran, which has so far said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths.

China considers ‘complete ban’ on wildlife trade

China’s top legislative committee has begun deliberating a proposal to ban all trade and consumption of wild animals, a practice believed responsible for the country’s deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The official Xinhua news agency said the proposal was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is currently set to start its session next month, but is expected to postpone.

China virus
Customers wearing face masks shop inside a supermarket in Wuhan [Reuters]

Kuwait, Bahrain confirm first coronavirus cases

Kuwait and Bahrain have confirmed their first cases of coronavirus, both of their state news agencies have reported.

Bahrain confirmed one case, a citizen arriving from Iran, the state news agency reported, citing the health ministry. Meanwhile, Kuwait had three cases, the state news agency KUNA reported, citing the ministry of health.

China says new coronavirus deaths increase with 150

Mainland China had 150 new confirmed coronavirus deaths on Sunday, the National Health Commission said on Monday, up from 97 the previous day.

In a statement, the commission also confirmed 409 new infections during the same period, down from 648 reported a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases on the mainland is now 77,150, and 2,592 have died from the outbreak, the commission said.

Meanwhile, China announced that it will allow healthy non-residents of Wuhan to leave the epicentre of the virus.

Coronavirus China
A photo published on Monday showed community workers waiting to pick up recovered coronavirus patients departing from a temporary hospital in Wuhan on Saturday [Shi Zhi/China Out via EPA]

Four Chinese provinces lower coronavirus emergency response level

Four Chinese provinces; Yunnan, Guangdong, Shanxi and Guizhou, on Monday lowered their coronavirus emergency response measures, local health commissions said.

Yunnan and Guizhou cut their emergency response measures from level I to level III, while Guangdong and Shanxi lowered their measures to level II.

China has a four-tier response system for pubic health emergencies that determines what measures it will implement, with level I the most serious.

Gansu province was the first to lower its measures on Friday, followed by Liaoning on Saturday.

South Korea reports 161 more coronavirus cases

South Korea reported 161 more cases of the new virus on Monday, bringing its total to 763 cases.

On Sunday, the country raised its disease alert to the highest level after a surge in infections and two more deaths.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also ordered officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to stem the spread of the outbreak.

Austria stops train from Italy due to suspected infections

Austria denied entry to a train from Italy on suspicion that two of the travellers might be infected with the coronavirus, Austria’s Ministry of the Interior said.

“Tonight a train on its way from Venice to Munich was stopped at the Austrian border,” the ministry said.

The Italian State Railways informed Austrian train operator OBB that there were two people with fever symptoms on the train, the ministry’s statement said.

The train was now waiting at the Brenner Pass in Italian territory. “The further procedure is currently being discussed together with Italian authorities.”

France, EU partners to discuss coronavirus: French health minister

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said he would talk to his European counterparts soon to discuss how to best cope with a possible epidemic risk in Europe as Italy battles an explosion in cases.

“Tonight there is no epidemic in France. But there is a problematic situation at the door, in Italy, that we are watching with great attention,” Veran told a news conference.

“The situation tonight is very evolutive at [the] international level,” he added. “I spoke with my Italian and German counterparts … We have agreed to have a discussion between several European health ministers, probably next week, to assess how we can together face epidemic risk,” he said.

A third person dies in Italy

A third person infected with the coronavirus died in Italy, a regional official said, as the government struggles to contain an outbreak of the illness in the north of the country with more than 130 cases reported since Friday.

Lombardy regional councillor Giulio Gallera told reporters the victim was an elderly woman from the province of Cremona in the Lombardy region.

The woman was also suffering from cancer, Gallera said.

Read updates from Sunday, February 23here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies