As a fifth death is announced, South Korea’s president authorizes broad measures.President Moon Jae-in on Sunday put South Korea on the highest possible alert in its fight against the coronavirus, a move that empowers the government to lock down cities and take other sweeping measures to contain the outbreak.“The coming few days will be a critical time for us,” he said at an emergency meeting of government officials to discuss the outbreak, which in just days has spiraled to 602 confirmed infections and five deaths. “The central government, local governments, health officials and medical personnel and the entire people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem.”By raising the alert to Level 4, or “serious,” Mr. Moon authorized the government to take steps like barring visitors from specific countries and restricting public transportation, as well as locking down cities, as China has done.Many of South Korea’s coronavirus cases are in the southeastern city of Daegu, which has essentially been placed under a state of emergency, though people are still free to enter and leave the city.More than half of the people confirmed to have been infected are either members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious sect with a strong presence in Daegu, or their relatives or other contacts.Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun had urged people on Saturday to comply with a ban on large protests in Seoul, the capital, where large political demonstrations are commonplace. But thousands of Christian activists defied the ban that day, gathering for their weekly protest against Mr. Moon, whom they accuse of coddling North Korea and mismanaging the economy.The spike of cases in South Korea, along with rising numbers in Iran and Italy, has added to fears that the window to avert a global pandemic is narrowing. The World Health Organization has warned African leaders of the urgent need to prepare for the virus; it identified 13 African countries as priorities because of their direct links to China, which accounts for the vast majority of confirmed infections and deaths.On Sunday, China raised its official numbers to 76,936 cases and 2,442 deaths.Iran, saying eight have died, closes schools across 14 provinces.Iran announced that it would close schools, universities and cultural centers across 14 provinces starting Sunday in an effort to curb the coronavirus, which has killed at least eight people in the country, state television said.Although the origin of the outbreak in Iran is unclear, the Fars news agency on Sunday quoted the country’s health minister as saying that Chinese carriers of the virus were a source of the outbreak in Iran.Just days ago, Iran said it was untouched by the virus, and the sudden increase in cases has raised concerns that it may be experiencing a significant outbreak. Iran’s health ministry said Saturday that 43 people had tested positive, with eight deaths, state-run Press TV reported.Experts have said that based on the number of dead, the total number of cases is probably much higher, as Covid-19 appears to kill about one out of 50 people infected.Eight of the 10 new cases were in the city of Qom, Press TV reported, citing a health ministry spokesman, Kianush Jahanpour. Qom has been the epicenter of the outbreak in Iran, and mosques and schools were closed there on Thursday.
Updated Feb. 10, 2020
What is a Coronavirus?It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
How contagious is the virus?According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
How worried should I be?While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
Who is working to contain the virus?World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
What if I’m traveling? The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
How do I keep myself and others safe?Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
Mehr, an Iranian news agency, reported that the government had begun mass distribution of masks in cities affected by the outbreak.The closures of schools, universities and cultural centers will last a week. It covers Qom, the capital of Tehran, and a dozen more provinces.The authorities have also said that concerts and cultural events would be canceled for a week and movie theaters closed, while sports competitions will be held without spectators, state television reported.Cases rise to 132 in Italy as several towns are on lockdown.The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy has risen by 89, officials said on Sunday, bringing the country’s total to 132.Ten towns in the Lombardy region have been placed on lockdown, a decision affecting more than 50,000 people, after 88 coronavirus infections emerged there. And as new cases arose in other cities, Italy’s cabinet passed emergency measures late Saturday night that apply throughout the country.Those national guidelines oblige local officials to “take all appropriate containment measures” if someone tests positive for the virus. Quarantine measures will be applied to anyone who has close contact with someone who has contracted the virus, and areas where positive cases are confirmed will be placed on lockdown.“We are trying to contain a phenomenon, but it’s not a pandemic,” Giulio Gallera, the councilor responsible for health in Lombardy, said in a news conference on Saturday.The lockdown in that region, announced late Friday, has closed schools, businesses, and bus and train stations. Officials have banned all public events, including sporting activities and religious ceremonies. Other Lombardy towns not affected by the lockdown have decided on their own restrictive measures.Soccer matches on Sunday were canceled in Lombardy and Veneto, of which Venice is the capital. Officials also announced two cases in Venice for the first time, as the number of cases in Veneto rose to 25.Two trade fairs scheduled for this month in Milan were…