Xi says China facing 'big test' with virus, global impact spreads
A man wearing a protective facemask and gloves to protect against the COVID-19 coronavirus buys vegetables at a shop in Beijing on February 23, 2020. The coronavirus epidemic that has killed over 2,400 people is communist China's "largest public health emergency" since its founding, said President Xi Jinping on February 23.
AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
Xi says China facing 'big test' with virus, global impact spreads
Beiyi Seow (Agence France-Presse) - February 24, 2020 - 8:43am

BEIJING, China — China's leader said Sunday the new coronavirus epidemic is the communist country's largest-ever public health emergency, but other nations were also increasingly under pressure from the deadly outbreak's relentless global march. 

Italy and Iran began introducing the sort of containment measures previously seen only in China, which has put tens of millions of people under lockdown in Hubei province, the outbreak's epicentre.

Italy reported a third death while cases spiked and the country's Venice carnival closed early.

Iran's confirmed death toll rose to eight, prompting travel bans from neighbouring countries. 

The virus has so far killed more than 2,400 people, with about 80,000 infected globally, though China remains by far the worst hit. 

President Xi Jinping said the epidemic was the "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," he said during remarks carried by state television. 

In a rare admission, at a meeting to coordinate the fight against the virus, Xi added that China must learn from "obvious shortcomings exposed" during its response. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Beijing for its handling of the epidemic, but China has been criticized at home for silencing early warnings from a whistleblower doctor who later died from the virus.

South Korea said it was raising its alert to the highest level, after the number of infections nearly tripled over the weekend to 602.  

The country now has the most infections outside of China, apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan. 

South Korea reported three deaths on Sunday, taking the countrywide fatality toll to five. The Yonhap news agency later reported a sixth death.

Around half of South Korea's cases have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect in the southern city of Daegu, where thousands of members have been quarantined or asked to stay at home.

Police checkpoints

Italy's cases spiked to 152 on Sunday, including three deaths. 

Virus panic crept onto catwalks, leading to the cancellation of some runway shows at Milan Fashion Week. Others were held behind closed doors and livestreamed.

Most cases are confined to the northern town of Codogno, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of Milan.  

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.

Austrian railways said traffic on a major route to Italy through the Brenner Pass would be suspended, after a train was stopped because of two suspected cases of the virus.

Neighbouring Slovenia asked vacationers returning from ski resorts in northern Italy to be particularly vigilant for symptoms.

Italy became the first European country to report one of its nationals died from the virus on Friday. 

Two more fatalities came over the weekend but Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged people "not to give in to panic", and asked them to follow the advice of health authorities.

"The rapid increase in reported cases in Italy over the past two days is of concern," World Health Organization spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said.

Not all reported cases seem to have clear epidemiological links, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case, Jasarevic added.

"At this stage, we need to focus on limiting further human to human transmission." 

Iran ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 provinces following eight deaths -- the most outside East Asia.

The outbreak in the Islamic Republic surfaced Wednesday and quickly grew to 43 confirmed infections, a sudden rise that prompted regional travel restrictions.

Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian said his country will close its border with Iran and suspend flights.

Like the Italian leader, he, too, said there is no reason to panic.

But Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at Britain's University of East Anglia, said the situation in Iran has "major implications" for the Middle East.

"It is unlikely that Iran will have the resources and facilities to adequately identify cases and adequately manage them if case numbers are large," Hunter said.

Pakistan and Turkey announced the closure of land crossings with Iran while Afghanistan said it was suspending travel to the country. 

Japan criticised

The outbreak in China remains concentrated in the city of Wuhan -- locked down one month ago -- where the virus is believed to have emanated from a live animal market in December.

China's infection rate has slowed, but flip-flopping over counting methods has sown confusion over its data.

There also was growing concern over the difficulty of detecting the virus.

Japan on Sunday confirmed a woman who tested negative and disembarked from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship later tested positive. 

Similarly in Israel, authorities confirmed that a second Israeli citizen who returned from the ship had tested positive. They were among 11 Israelis allowed off the ship and flown home after initially testing negative.

Japan has been criticised over its handling of cases aboard the vessel quarantined off Yokohama.

A third passenger died Sunday, Japan's health ministry said, without specifying if it was as a result of the virus.

Four Britons who returned from the Diamond Princess on Saturday also tested positive for the COVID-19 illness, the NHS health service said.

2019-NCOV COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS XI JINPING
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 30, 2020 - 12:49pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

November 30, 2020 - 12:49pm

America should prepare for a "surge upon a surge" in coronavirus cases as millions of travelers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, top US scientist Anthony Fauci warned Sunday.

The United States is the world's worst-affected country, with 266,831 COVID-19 deaths, and US President Donald Trump's administration has issued conflicting messages on mask-wearing, travel and the danger posed by the virus.

"There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," Fauci told CNN's "State of the Union." 

Travel surrounding Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday made this the busiest week in US airports since the pandemic began.

"We may see a surge upon a surge" in two or three weeks, Fauci added. "We don't want to frighten people, but that's the reality." — AFP

November 29, 2020 - 4:10pm

The Department of Health reports an additional 2,076 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, pushing the national caseload to 429,864.

The DOH also records 10,579 new recoveries, bringing the total of recovered patients to 398,624. With 40 new reported deaths, the country's death toll is now at 8,373.

With the latest figures, total active cases in the country stand at 22,867.

November 29, 2020 - 3:02pm

Around 9,000 runners — some wearing face masks — took part in the Shanghai International Marathon Sunday, Chinese media said, a rare mass event in a year when coronavirus laid waste to most such sport.

Prior to the race officials touted it as an opportunity to show how China — where the virus emerged late last year before unleashing a pandemic — is moving ahead despite the continuing global health crisis.

The prestigious New York, Berlin, Boston and Chicago marathons all fell victim to coronavirus this year, while London and Tokyo were open only to elite runners.

Bucking that trend, the Shanghai marathon went ahead under sunny skies following several days of rain, and with virus prevention measures in place to thwart infections. — AFP

November 28, 2020 - 5:18pm

More than 400,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus have been registered in Europe, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources around 0800 GMT Saturday.

The second-worst hit global region after Latin America and the Caribbean, 400,649 people have died of Covid-19 in Europe among 17,606,370 confirmed cases. Of these, 36,147 occurred in the past week alone -- the continent's worst seven-day total since the pandemic began.

Britain accounted for almost two-thirds of the European deaths at 57,551 from almost 1.6 million infections, followed by Italy with 53,677 deaths and 1.5 million infections, France (51,914 deaths, 2.2 million cases), Spain (44,668 deaths, 1.6 million cases) and Russia (39,068 deaths, 2.2 million cases). — AFP

November 28, 2020 - 4:04pm

The Department of Health confirms 1,893 new cases of the coronavirus disease. Total cases now at 427,797.

Out of the confirmed cases, 31,402 are registered active. There are 79 additional fatalities and 474 new recoveries.

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