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World

Xi says China facing 'big test' with virus, global impact spreads

Beiyi Seow - Agence France-Presse
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

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: October 16, 2021 - 6:03pm

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

October 16, 2021 - 6:03pm

Russia on Saturday tops 1,000 deaths over 24 hours for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with the country's jab drive at a standstill and few restrictions in place.

An official government tally showed 1,002 deaths and 33,208 new infections, setting a high for both fatalities and cases for the third day in a row.

The surging outbreak has come with just 31 percent of Russians fully inoculated as of Saturday, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid-19 data from the regions. — AFP

October 12, 2021 - 1:53pm

Elated Sydneysiders celebrate the end of almost four months of coronavirus lockdown, putting behind them a period of "blood, sweat and no beers" in Australia's largest city.

Sydney's more than five million residents were subjected to a 106-day lockdown, designed to limit the march of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

With new infections now falling -- New South Wales state recorded 496 cases on Monday -- and more than 70% of over-16s fully vaccinated, the city is dusting off the cobwebs. — AFP

October 11, 2021 - 8:38pm

The Kremlin on Monday described Russia's COVID fatality toll as "high" and the country's vaccination rate as "unacceptably" low, even as it rejected new restrictions so as to protect the economy.

Officials on Monday registered 957 new deaths from Covid-19 over 24 hours, bringing the country's total fatalities to 217,372 -- the highest toll in Europe -- even as authorities are accused of downplaying the severity of Russia's outbreak.

Under a broader definition of deaths linked to the virus, the Rosstat statistics agency said Friday that by the end of August more than 400,000 people in Russia had died with the coronavirus. 

The growing toll from the virus comes as Russia's jab drive has stalled. As of Monday, just over 30 percent of Russians had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies COVID-19 data from the regions.

"Yes, indeed, the level of vaccinations we have is small, unacceptably small," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, saying that this is the reason for "such a high mortality rate." -- AFP

October 9, 2021 - 10:45am

A major study shows that cases of depression and anxiety surged by more than a quarter globally during the first year of the pandemic, especially among women and young adults.

In the first worldwide estimate of the mental health impact of COVID-19, researchers estimated that 2020 saw an additional 52 million people suffer from major depressive disorder, and an additional 76 million cases of anxiety.

These represent a 28- and 26-percent increase in the two disorders respectively, according to the study, published in The Lancet medical journal. — AFP 

October 6, 2021 - 8:44pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4,813,581 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Wednesday. 

At least 235,767,340 cases of coronavirus have been registered. 

The vast majority have recovered, though some have continued to experience symptoms weeks or even months later. 

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