POST TIME: 24 February, 2020 12:52:05 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 24 February, 2020 12:36:34 PM
S Korea on ‘high’ alert, Italy, Iran take drastic steps
COVID-19 outbreak
AFP, Shanghai, Italy

S Korea on ‘high’ alert, Italy, Iran take drastic steps

South Korea went on high alert yesterday following a sharp jump in coronavirus cases, while Italy and Iran took their own drastic containment steps as an epidemic that has killed nearly 2,500 people in China continued a relentless global expansion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned Africa's poor health systems left it vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease, which has spilled out of China to more than 25 countries.

South Korea is raising the nation's alert to its "highest" level, President Moon Jae-in said yesterday after the number of infections nearly tripled over the weekend to 602. Led by an outbreak cluster in a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu, South Korea now has the most infections outside of China -- apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

“The next few days will be crucial,” Moon said following a government meeting on the virus.

“The government will raise the alert level to the highest level according to experts’ recommendations.”

Moon did not specify what those measures may include.

South Korea reported 169 new cases and three deaths yesterday, taking the countrywide fatality toll to five. Yonhap news agency later reported a sixth death.

More than 300 cases have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect in Daegu with some 9,300 members either quarantined or asked to stay at home, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 1,240 have reported symptoms.

The new cases also included a Samsung Electronics employee at a plant in Gumi city, leading the tech giant to suspend operations there until today. Elsewhere, 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 the epicentre province of Hubei.

More than 50,000 people in about a dozen northern Italian towns near the business hub of Milan were told to stay home, while shops and schools were shuttered.

The number of cases in the country rose to more than 100, the president of the northern Lombardy region said yesterday.

Italy became the first European country to report one of its nationals had died from the virus on Friday, followed by a second death on Saturday. Both were elderly.