The deadly coronavirus epidemic spread further outside China on Monday with a surge of infections in South Korea making it the biggest hotspot abroad, while outbreaks worsened in the Middle East and Europe.
The number of fatalities in China also continued to soar, with 150 more confirmed deaths, taking the official death toll to nearly 2,600.
Chinese authorities insist they are making progress in containing the virus, citing slowing infection rates thanks to unprecedented travel lockdowns and quarantines in or near the outbreak’s epicenter.
But a rising number of new cases and deaths in other parts of the world have deepened fears about a potential pandemic, with South Korea, Italy and Iran emerging over the past week as new front lines.
Afghanistan, Bahrain and Kuwait also announced on Monday their first cases of the virus, and the death toll in Iran climbed to 12 – the most outside China.
South Korea has seen a rapid rise in infections since a cluster sprouted in a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu last week.
More than 200 infections and two more deaths were reported in South Korea on Monday, bringing the total cases to more than 830 – by far the most outside China.
Eight people have died from the virus in South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in over the weekend raised the country’s virus alert to the highest “red” level.
As part of the containment efforts, kindergarten and school holidays were extended nationally and the start of the new K-league football season, scheduled for this weekend, was postponed.
At the main high-speed train station in Daegu, a normally bustling city of 2.5 million people, just a small trickle of commuters were seen.
A long line of cabs waited for passengers outside the station, and the streets were eerily still, with masks and gloves standard for the few out and about.
Football, fashion curbed
In Italy, a fourth fatality was confirmed on Monday, deepening fears about the virus spreading through Europe.
More than 150 people have been infected in Italy, where several Serie A football games were postponed over the weekend.
The famed Venice Carnival was also cut short and some Milan Fashion Week runway shows were canceled.
More than 50,000 people in about a dozen northern Italian towns have been told to stay home, and police set up checkpoints to enforce a blockade.
In Iran, authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centers across 14 provinces.
The outbreak in the Islamic Republic surfaced on Wednesday last week and has quickly grown to 47 confirmed infections, prompting neighboring countries to close their borders.
More than 30 people outside China have now died after contracting the virus. About 30 countries have reported infections.
In China, the confirmed death toll stood at 2,592 on Monday after 150 more people died of the virus.
The number of confirmed new cases fell compared with the previous day to 409, taking the country’s total infections to more than 77,000.
The virus is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the global economy, with many factories in China closed or subdued due to quarantines, and global travel choked.
Stock markets in Asia fell on Monday following the surge in infections in South Korea and weekend developments across Europe and the Middle East.
“While the coronavirus is probably slowing in China, it is speeding up elsewhere,” said Charles Gillams, at RJMG Asset Management.
The International Monetary Fund warned Sunday that the epidemic was putting a “fragile” global economic recovery at risk.
G20 financial chiefs also voiced concern about its ripple effects around the world.
Only about 30% of China’s small- and medium-sized enterprises have resumed work, an official said Monday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged Sunday that the virus had become the country’s “largest public health emergency” since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
“This is a crisis for us and it is a big test,” Xi said in comments reported by state television.
Officials are expected to decide Monday whether to postpone China’s annual parliament meeting for the first time since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.