The total number of confirmed patients infected with the novel coronavirus around the globe reached over 92,000 cases on Sunday.
Around 12,000 of the total number of cases have been detected outside mainland China since the outbreak started increasing late last year, while the remaining 80,151 make up those confirmed inside China.
It has been confirmed that the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has thus far been detected in about 60 countries around the world. So far, it is more highly concentrated in some areas of the globe than others, prompting some airlines to suspend or halt flights to various destinations in China where the virus was first detected.
Flights to other hotspots such as Iran, South Korea and Italy have also been affected.
Outside China, South Korea has the largest COVID-19 dispersal so far, where an additional 586 cases were confirmed on Sunday, bringing the total up to over 5,100 cases in the country. Most of the cases in South Korea are centred in Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city. The death toll has also risen to over 25 coronavirus-related deaths in the country.
A leader of a religious sect in South Korea could face murder charges after being accused of failing to cooperate in efforts to contain the virus. According to the authorities, members of the Shincheonji church infected each other, and the virus spread from Daegu where the church is based.
Meanwhile in the Middle East, Iran has become the epicentre of infections with the virus, where it has been rapidly spreading, with the death toll rising from 54 deaths to 77. The number of confirmed cases in Iran has risen by more than a half, taking the total up to over 2,300 more than double the number of reported infections in the past few days. Around170 infections were reported in Tehran, Iran’s capital.
According to executive director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergencies programme Mike Ryan, the virus came unnoticed to Iran, and due to its initially being undetected, “the extent of infection may be broader than what we may be seeing.”
Several Iranian officials have contracted COVID-19, and an 81-year-old official has passed away due to the virus. Iranian media outlets announced that the first Iranian ambassador to the Vatican, cleric Hadi Khosroshahi, had died shortly after contracting the virus and suffering from respiratory problems.
Members of the country’s Revolutionary Guards announced in a televised news conference that mobile hospitals are to be set up and that flights departing from or arriving in Rasht, the capital of Iran’s northern Gilan province, have been suspended. This area has Iran’s highest number of infections.
Other detected cases in the Middle East include over 21 confirmed cases each in Iraq and the UAE, as well as over 45 in Bahrain and over 55 in Kuwait.
In the meantime, an upsurge of COVID-19 has spread through several countries in Europe. Italy has become the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, with over 2,000 cases confirmed and around 52 deaths reported.
“The situation is, frankly, an emergency from the point of view of health system organisation,” Director of Infectious Diseases at Milan’s Sacco Hospital Massimo Galli told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The US airline Delta Air has suspended flights to Milan until the beginning of May. Various events and public meetings in the city have been suspended along with the closing of the La Scala Opera House.
Around 204 confirmed cases have been reported in France with four deaths. The Louvre Museum has been shut due to concerns at the coronavirus spreading further.
“The Louvre cannot open this Sunday. The museum staff met to discuss the health situation and the COVID-19 prevention measures taken by the museum following instructions from the competent authorities,” a statement said from representatives of the world’s largest art museum at the weekend.
Additionally, the country has banned crowds of more than 5,000 people meeting in cramped spaces.
Earlier this month the WHO named the novel coronavirus COVID-19, where CO stands for corona, the VI stands for virus, D for disease and the 19 represents 2019. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are common in both humans and animals, from cattle and camels to cats or bats, but it is very rare that an animal coronavirus can infect people and spread.
The COVID-19 virus is generally believed to have spread from a China-based wholesale market, where the pathogen may have jumped from bats to other animals and consequently to humans.
In the latest Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report by the CDC, the linkage between the virus and the Wuhan food market in China is confirmed in a summary statement. “Early on, many of the patients at the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread,” it said.
“Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread.”
Recently, it has been found that for the first time since the spread of the virus began that China’s recovery rate has surpassed that of newly infected patients. According to the China Global Television Network (CGTN), there have been nearly 48,000 recoveries compared to 40,000 unsettled infections.
According to Reuters, one of the coronavirus hospitals that were specially built to control the COVID-19 emergency outbreak in China has now been closed as it has discharged its last recovered patients and there has been a drop in the number of new cases.
This has not stopped China from making changes and continuing to exercise caution, however. Chinese President Xi Jinping is looking into fixing the roots of the problem by improving the country’s health services, cracking down on the illegal trade in wildlife, and improving emergency preparations.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly