In Iran, a close adviser to adviser Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei died after contracting coronavirus. The head of a religious sect in South Korea got down on his knees and bowed deeply out of shame for his organization’s role in the disease’s spread. Italy has quarantined churches and urged doctors to come out of retirement.
The new and frightening virus that has tightened borders, led to massive disinfection programs and roiled global markets has been detected in at least 70 countries with 90,000 cases and 3,100 deaths. China, where COVID-19 originated, remains the hardest-hit nation, with 80,151 cases and 2,943 deaths, but its ambassador to the United Nations said late Monday that it has turned a corner in battling the disease.
“We are not far from the coming of the victory,” said Zhang Jun, ahead of daily figures released Tuesday that showed new cases in China dropped to 125, a six-week low.
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But the optimism in China contrasts with a growing sense of alarm in other parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. South Korea saw its largest daily increase in new cases Tuesday, with 851 new infections, bringing the country’s total reported cases to 5,186. President Moon Jae-in called the outbreak “a grave situation.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the leader of World Health Organization, said the outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan were the agency’s greatest concern.
“We are in uncharted territory,” Tedros said.
Tuesday’s international developments at a glance:
Pope Francis tested negative for the coronavirus after suffering a slight cold which led him to cancel several public gatherings, newspaper Il Messaggero reported. The pope is 83. At least 52 people have died in Italy from the virus.
Australia’s Central Bank cut interest rates and signaled it was prepared for further monetary easing measures in order to make up for an economic slowdown in China caused by the virus situation. President Donald Trump has urged the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut interest rates in response to the outbreak. A majority of global stock market indexes gained Tuesday, although Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 1.2%
Iranian state media reported that at least 23 lawmakers now have the disease. The death of Mohammad Mirmohammadi – Khamenei’s adviser – came as Iran announced the virus had killed at least 77 people among 2,336 confirmed cases. Public health experts worry that Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, around 3.3%, is higher than other countries. Iran suffers from a chronic shortage of essential medical supplies, partly blamed on years of U.S. sanctions. It also stands accused of concealing information about the spread of the disease. Iran’s supreme leader mobilized the army Tuesday to help tackle the outbreak.
North Korea still claims zero infections, more than a month after the WHO declared the virus a Public Health Emergency of International concern and despite the metastasizing presence of it in South Korea. “Unfortunately, the international community has no idea if the coronavirus is spreading inside North Korea,” said East Asia expert Jessica Lee in a recent report for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank in Washington. “The fact that we know nothing about the level of infection or deaths within North Korea is extremely problematic and, left unchanged, could have serious public health implications.”
Britain’s government forecast that about a fifth of the country’s workforce could be off sick if the virus, at its peak, turns into a full-blown pandemic. Like other nations, Britain is drafting emergency plans that would see the government close schools, limit large-scale events and implement a policy of “social distancing” if necessary. Under a worse-case scenario it could also call in the army and give police and medical professionals powers to detain people suspected of having COVID-19. So far, Britain has fewer cases of the disease than some other nearby European countries such France, with only 40 confirmed infections.
Ukraine confirmed its first case of the virus, on the heel of reported cases for the first time in Morocco, Tunisia, South Arabia and Yemen.
Amid mounting pressure on its health system, South Korea has started testing people for coronavirus via drive-through-type stations such as can be found at McDonald’s or Starbucks. Motorists are met by health officials in protective plastic suits who take samples from their throats and nasal passages. About 60% of South Korea’s coronavirus cases have been traced to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious community. One of the church’s leaders, dubbed “Patient 31” by South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is thought to have infected at least 31 people alone as she attended church services in the area.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: China sees ‘coming victory’ over coronavirus as global alarm spreads