Fears mounted on Feb. 24 that the coronavirus outbreak in China will grow into a pandemic with disruptive and deadly consequences for countries around the world, after sharp rises in infections in South Korea, Italy and Iran.
Outside mainland China where it originated late last year, the outbreak has spread to some 28 other countries and territories, with a death toll of around two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.
China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.
Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, remain virtually cut off from the outside world.
South Korea’s fourth-largest city Daegu grew increasingly isolated as the number of infections there increased rapidly, with Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspending flights to the city until March 9 and March 28 respectively.
South Korean authorities reported a seventh death and another 161 new cases on Feb. 24, taking the total to 763.
Seoul raised its infectious disease alert to its highest level on Feb. 23 after the southeastern city and nearby Cheongdo county — where infections surged last week — were designated “special care zones”.
The escalation in the alert level allows the government to send extra resources to Daegu and Cheongdo, forcibly prevent public activities and order the temporary closure of schools.
A focal point was a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu, where a 61-year-old member of the congregation with no recent record of overseas travel tested positive for the virus.
Catholic churches in Daegu and Gwangju have suspended Masses and other gatherings, while churches elsewhere saw declines in attendance on Sunday, especially among the elderly.
“If the situation gets worse, I think we’ll need to take more measures,” said Song Gi-young, 53, wearing a face mask at church.
In Japan, where the government is facing growing questions about whether it is doing enough to counter the virus, authorities had confirmed 773 cases by early Sunday evening.
Most of them were from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo, the Diamond Princess. A third passenger, a Japanese man in his 80s, died on Feb. 23.
British authorities said four people evacuated from the ship had tested positive for the virus after being flown to Britain.
In Europe, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said he would talk with his European counterparts soon to discuss how best to cope with a possible epidemic in Europe, after Italy reported a third death from the flu-like virus and 150 infections, from just three before Feb. 21.
Iran, which announced its first two cases on Feb. 19, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on the Islamic Republic.