World

COVID-19: Here's what's happening around the world March 2

Rising numbers of coronavirus cases in South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan are currently the "greatest concern" for the World Health Organization.

Canada asks travellers from Iran to self-isolate; WHO worries about Iran, South Korea, Italy, Japan

South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear take a break after sanitizing a street in front of the city hall in Daegu on Monday. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

The latest:

  • China sees lowest number of new coronavirus cases since January. 
  • Outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are 'our greatest concern,' WHO director says.
  • More than 89,000 cases of COVID-19 reported around the world, more than 3,000 dead.
  • Canada has 27 cases, now asking travellers returning from Iran to self-isolate.
  • U.S. death toll rises to 6.
  • WATCH: Infectious disease expert talks about the possibility of more cases in Canada.

The coronavirus appears to be spreading much more rapidly outside China than within, and airports in hard-hit countries are ramping up the screening of travellers.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that almost eight times as many cases had been reported outside China as inside in the previous 24 hours, adding that the risk of the coronavirus spreading was now very high at a global level.

At a briefing in Geneva, he said outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan were the greatest concern, but that there was evidence that close surveillance was working in South Korea, the worst-affected country outside China, and that the epidemic could be contained there.

China still has the majority of more than 89,000 coronavirus cases worldwide but outbreaks were surging in other countries.

On Tuesday morning, local time, China's National Health Commission reported the mainland had 125 new confirmed cases on Monday, down from 202 a day earlier.  It is the lowest daily tally of new cases in mainland China since the authority started publishing nationwide data in January.

Staff members move blood supplies at a blood centre in China's Anhui province to be sent to Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, on Sunday. The number of new cases reported in mainland China on Monday was the lowest since January. (China Daily via Reuters)

The sharp drop was driven by a further decline in new confirmed cases in Wuhan, the hard-hit city in Hubei province where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected. Only 11 of the new cases in mainland China were outside of Hubei. 

By the end of Monday, the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China was 80,151, with 2,943 deaths, the health commission said.  

More than 3,000 people have died worldwide from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. And although it has been a serious illness mainly for the elderly and those with existing health problems, most people who have been infected have had only mild problems and some apparently show no symptoms at all.

But attempts to contain the spread of the virus — for which there is no vaccine or cure — have been far-reaching.

The question of whether containment is possible has been debated, but Tedros reiterated his message urging countries to try to contain the virus, pointing to efforts in China and information out of South Korea indicating that cases there appeared to mostly be tied to five known case clusters.

"We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures," Tedros said. 

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist in Toronto, said it's still the early stages of the outbreak.

WATCH | Dr. Michael Gardam says outbreak still in early stages:

All the signs suggest the world is heading toward a pandemic, says Dr. Michael Gardam, chief of staff at Humber River Hospital. 0:40

"While we have seen decreasing cases being reported out of China, we now have new epicentres of this in multiple parts of the world."

Gardam told CBC News it's unlikely that most countries would be able to introduce the sort of control measures China used — which included a quarantine of the sprawling city of Wuhan — to try to contain the virus.

The infectious disease doctor said the spread of the disease is being slowed, but cautioned that slowing the spread is different than stopping it completely.

Mike Ryan, director of WHO's emergencies program, reiterated that message, saying even as experts argue about how best to label and handle the outbreak, the WHO believes continued effort at containment will help save lives and protect health systems.

WATCH | WHO's Mike Ryan talks about the impact of COVID-19 on health systems:

Countries with robust health care systems can lack an abundance of intensive care resources and personnel, WHO says 1:02

Even countries with sophisticated health systems have limited intensive care capacity, Ryan said.

"Most countries will struggle if they start to see large numbers of patients requiring intensive care," he said. "All countries are going to have to think very carefully about how they manage the critical care component of this disease."

Outside China, there were more than 8,700 people infected and over 125 deaths as of Monday. 

Latvia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Morocco all reported cases for the first time on Monday, bringing the total number of countries with coronavirus cases to more than 60. 

Major cities including Jakarta, New York and Berlin grappled with their first recorded cases.

Read on for a look at what's happening in the U.S. and Canada, as well as some of the harder-hit nations around the world.

Here's what's happening in Canada

Ontario reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total in the province to 18.

That raises the total number of coronavirus cases in Canada to 27. There are also eight cases in B.C. and one in Quebec.

In a media telephone briefing on Monday afternoon, Canada's chief public health officer said those cases all involved "travellers from China, Iran and Egypt and a limited number of their close contacts." 

"The rapid increase in cases in Iran and the number of recent Canadian cases linked to travellers coming from Iran is very concerning," said Dr. Theresa Tam. 

As a result, Tam said, all travellers returning from Iran are asked to "self-isolate at home for 14 days" immediately after their return to Canada.

Ontario's chief medical officer says the new travel advisory will put Iran on par with Hubei, China, in terms of risk assessment. 1:19

They should identify themselves to border officials upon arrival, contact their local public health authorities within 24 hours, and monitor for coronavirus symptoms, she said.

The Canadian government has also increased its travel health notice risk level to advise avoiding all non-essential travel to Iran. 

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said it doesn't appear that coronavirus is spreading locally — and this is a positive sign.  

Here's what's happening in the U.S.

Two women wearing masks walk away from a care centre in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle, on Monday. Coronavirus cases have topped 100 in the U.S. and have spread to nearly a dozen states. Of those, six cases have been fatal, all in Washington state. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

The number of coronavirus deaths in the United States rose to six on Monday — all in Washington state.

The first two U.S. deaths were announced on the weekend. Both were men with existing health problems who had been hospitalized. One was a man in his 70s from a nursing facility near Seattle where dozens of sick people were tested for the virus, Washington state health officials said.

Health officials announced on Monday afternoon that four more people had died. The deaths all happened in King County (which includes Seattle) and the adjoining Snohomish County.

Researchers said earlier the virus may have been circulating for weeks undetected in Washington state — where there have been a total of 18 confirmed cases as of Monday.

There are 91 confirmed or presumed coronavirus cases in the U.S., across 10 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number includes 45 people who were repatriated to the U.S. from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, as well as three people who were evacuated from Wuhan. 

New cases among California health workers and in New York, Rhode Island and Washington raised concerns on both U.S. coasts.

Here's what's happening in South Korea

A disinfection professional, wearing protective gear, sprays antiseptic solution on escalator handles at a department store in Seoul on Monday to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Chung Sung-jun/Getty Images)

The surging outbreak in South Korea's fourth-largest city has overwhelmed its health system despite the national government sending assistance. The problem in Daegu has been highlighted by at least four deaths of infected elderly people who were waiting to be hospitalized.

Kim Gang-lip, South Korea's vice-health minister, said hospitals' capacities from now on will be reserved for patients with serious symptoms or pre-existing medical conditions, while mild cases will be isolated at designated facilities outside hospitals.

South Korea reported another 599 infections on Monday, taking its tally to 4,335. Twenty-six people have died.

Here's what's happening in Iran and the Middle East

Members of a medical team spray disinfectant at the Imam Reza holy shrine in Mashhad, Iran. Iran has been hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak. (WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)

In the Middle East, a worsening situation in Iran was accompanied by concern for its top leaders after a confidant of Iran's supreme leader died of COVID-19.

On Monday, Iran reported 1,501 cases and 66 deaths.  

The WHO chief said Monday that a staff member in its Iran office has tested positive for COVID-19 and had a mild disease.

"We will have two difficult weeks ahead," said Ali Raibiei, a spokesperson for the Iranian government, which has faced questions about its reporting after local officials provided different numbers to media outlets.

Rabiei said separately that a closure of Iran's schools, which was announced on Saturday because of the outbreak, would continue through the end of this week, the official IRNA news agency reported.

WATCH | WHO says criticism of countries isn't helpful:

The World Health Organization says it's easy to miss early signs of an infectious disease outbreak. 1:22

Iran has the highest number of deaths from the coronavirus outside China, where the outbreak began. Many believe the true number of cases in Iran is larger than what it is reporting.   

Ryan, of the WHO, said his organization doesn't believe countries are being non-transparent in their reporting around the disease.

"It's very easy to get behind the curve," he said, pointing to the challenges of getting a sense of what is unfolding in the early stages of an outbreak. "The real question is how quickly you catch up."

A WHO team arrived in Iran on Monday afternoon to offer support to the government and to deliver supplies, WHO said.

Saudi Arabia, which announced last week that it was closing holy sites to foreign pilgrims in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19, reported its first case on Monday.

Here's what's happening in Japan

Two students do self-study at an elementary school where the facility was opened for children who cannot stay at home alone while their parents are at work, in Saitama, Japan on Monday. (Kyodo/Reuters)

Across Japan, children stayed home on Monday after the government announced the closing of schools until April. 

As of Monday, Japan confirmed at least 15 new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of cases in the country to 976, including passengers infected by the pathogen on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Kyodo newswire reported.

Here's what's happening at the United Nations

At UN headquarters in New York, officials are reviewing all upcoming international gatherings on a case-by-case basis. 

A major summit on women's rights, for example, has been reduced from two weeks to one day, following a recommendation from the UN Secretary General on Monday. 

Some 12,000 people from around the world had been expected to attend the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March, but Monday's decision limits participation to New York-based delegations in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. New York City confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Sunday.

Here's what's happening in Europe

Tourists wearing protective masks as a protection against the coronavirus visit the Milan Cathedral on Monday. The Duomo reopened for the first time since the coronavirus crisis hit parts of northern Italy. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy rose by 18 to 52, the Civil Protection Agency said on Monday. The number of cases in Italy, which has been the hardest hit country in Europe, totalled 2,036.

The head of the agency said that of those originally infected, 149 people had recovered.

The contagion came to light 10 days ago and is focused mainly on a handful of hotspots in the north of Italy, with isolated cases reported in many other regions.

Officials said it could take up to two weeks before they know whether quarantining 11 towns in northern Italy is slowing the spread of the virus.

The U.S. issued an advisory against travel to the region of northern Italy where its outbreak is concentrated. Global Affairs Canada says travellers to northern Italy should "exercise a high degree of caution." 

In France, disappointed crowds huddled under umbrellas outside the Louvre Museum on Monday as it remained closed. On Saturday, the French government banned any indoor gatherings larger than 5,000 people to prevent the spread of coronavirus — so Louvre workers have said that should apply to their workplace, too.

About 250 Louvre workers, mainly those who guard the treasured artworks or greet visitors, voted Monday to stay off the job until management presents a clearer plan of how it's dealing with the virus threat, said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative for its staffers.

France had 191 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Monday, the head of France's public health service said, including three deaths. 

British health authorities said Monday there had been four more confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 40. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer of England, said the four new patients had recently travelled from Italy.

Here's what's happening in Russia

A Russian citizen returning from Italy was diagnosed with coronavirus, the RIA news agency cited the health-care ministry as saying on Monday. 

Another three Russian nationals are receiving treatment in Russia after they contracted the virus on a cruise ship in Japan, authorities have said.

Here's what's happening in Africa

As of Monday, the continent of 1.2 billion people had eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 — three in Algeria, two in Egypt, one in Tunisia, one in Nigeria and one in Senegal. The case in Senegal is a French citizen who resides there and who had recently returned from France. The case in Nigeria is an Italian citizen who was travelling from Milan on a business trip and fell ill after arriving in Lagos.  

But 13 of Africa's 54 countries have been identified by the WHO as at risk of becoming centres for the disease because of their high volume of traffic with China and weak health surveillance and treatment systems.

Some countries are already battling outbreaks ranging from Ebola to malaria and measles, prompting WHO officials in Africa to warn that the continent's health systems could be overwhelmed.

Across Africa, testing laboratories are being supplied, quarantine and hospital treatment facilities are being readied for patients, and public health advisories have been issued.

 

With files from The Associated Press, CBC News and The Canadian Press

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