Italian Gendarmerie outside of Milan

Coronavirus deepens Iran's isolation, tests Italy and South Korea

Islamic Republic's neighbors shut down border crossings and ports amid fears of unmanageable outbreak; new cases reported around Europe in travelers returning from Italy

Reuters |
Published: 02.25.20 , 20:42
Iran's coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the most outside China, increasing its international isolation as countries as far apart as South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures to curb the epidemic's global spread.
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  • Believed to have come from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed close to 2,700 in China. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says the outbreak there has been declining since Feb. 2.
    נגיף וירוס קורונה איטליה כביש ליד מילאנונגיף וירוס קורונה איטליה כביש ליד מילאנו
    Italian Gendarmerie outside of Milan
    (Photo: AFP)
    Beyond mainland China, however, it has jumped to about 30 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths, according to a Reuters tally. Spreading infections in Iran, Italy and South Korea are of particular concern.
    Iran's outbreak, amid mounting U.S. sanctions pressure, threatens to leave it further cut off. Several countries suspended flights and some of its neighbors closed their borders while Oman's Khasab port halted imports and exports with Iran.
    "It is an uninvited and inauspicious visitor. God willing we will get through ... this virus," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech.
    The deputy health minister and a member of parliament were among those infected.
    בדיקות לשבים מ איראן בנמל התעופה הבינלאומי ב בגדד עיראק חשש מ נגיף וירוס קורונהבדיקות לשבים מ איראן בנמל התעופה הבינלאומי ב בגדד עיראק חשש מ נגיף וירוס קורונה
    Iraqis returning from Iran examined at Baghdad airport
    (Photo: EPA)
    Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reported their first cases, all in people who had been to Iran.
    Iran canceled concerts and soccer matches nationwide, and schools and universities closed in many provinces. Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts.
    Tehran says U.S. sanctions are hampering its response to the coronavirus by preventing imports of masks and medicines.


    Global stocks sank to their lowest in over two months on Tuesday in anxiety over the spread of the virus and its damage to the world economy.
    "We are close to a pandemic but there is still hope," said Raina MacIntyre, head of a biosecurity program at Australia's University of New South Wales, using the term for a widespread global epidemic.
    A top WHO expert urged countries to step up preparations.
    "Think the virus is going to show up tomorrow," Bruce Aylward, head of the joint WHO-Chinese mission on the outbreak, told reporters on his return to Geneva. "If you don't think that way, you're not going to be ready."
    Medical hazard teams in Wuhan
    U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asked a Senate subcommittee to approve $2.5 billion in funding to expand surveillance systems for the virus, help the development of vaccines and boost stockpiles of protective equipment.
    In South Korea, which has the most virus cases outside China with 977 infections and 10 deaths, authorities were testing all the estimated 215,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
    The country's outbreak is believed to have begun in the city of Daegu with a 61-year-old woman who is a member of its congregation.
    There was misery too for 34 South Korean newlyweds whose honeymoons on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius became a holiday from hell after they were put in isolation.
    In Europe, Italy is the front line with more than 280 cases, and on Tuesday the death toll there rose to 10. The outbreak is spreading from its origins in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.


    Italy's tourist industry, which accounts for about 13% of the economy, fears a plunge amid travel warnings and restrictions on soccer matches, cinemas and theaters.
    Italy's health minister, Roberto Speranza, said neighboring countries had agreed not to close their borders, calling such a step "disproportionate... at this time".
    But airlines began restricting flights to Italy, as prices for masks and gels skyrocketed, a planned shoot in Italy for Tom Cruise's seventh outing in the "Mission: Impossible" series was postponed, Milan cathedral was closed and Venice carnival canceled.
    כיתוב:  נגיף קורונה  וירוס קרנבל המסכות  ונציה  איטליהכיתוב:  נגיף קורונה  וירוס קרנבל המסכות  ונציה  איטליה
    A participant in Venice's Carnival wearing a medical mask
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Switzerland, Austria and Croatia reported their first cases, all people who had been to Italy.
    Spain reported its first case on the mainland, a woman from Barcelona who had also visited northern Italy, while a four-star hotel on Tenerife was in lockdown after a couple tested positive.
    China reported a rise in new cases in Hubei province, the epicenter. But excluding those, it had just nine new infections on Monday, its fewest since Jan. 20. The WHO's Aylward said: "China knows how to keep people alive."
    Beijing said restrictions on travel and movement that have paralyzed activity in the world's second-largest economy should begin to be lifted.
    An official with the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control noted that supermarkets were becoming busier - but offered some pointers for shoppers.
    "Choose a supermarket with relatively low foot traffic and good ventilation, and prepare a shopping list before actually going to shop," Liu Xiaofeng told reporters. "Don't hang about. Don't chit-chat."
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    נגיף וירוס קורונה איטליה כביש ליד מילאנו
    Italian Gendarmerie outside of Milan
    Photo: AFP