China, South Korea, Iran worst-hit from COVID-19, WHO warns of pandemic

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 25, 2020, 10.35 AM(IST) Written By: Nikhil Pandey

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Grim news of deaths and outbreaks in the Middle East, Europe and Asia has sent financial markets spiralling down, though the Chinese epicentre of Wuhan seems to be stabilising with the death toll at its lowest for three straight weeks.

The World Health Organization warned that the new coronavirus which has peaked in China could still become a pandemic. The alert comes after the victims of the virulent strain have been discovered in countries the world over.

Grim news of deaths and outbreaks in the Middle East, Europe and Asia has sent financial markets spiralling down, though the Chinese epicentre of Wuhan seems to be stabilising with the death toll at its lowest for three straight weeks.

But the situation is worsening in other countries, with more than 2,000 cases and 30 deaths reported abroad, prompting a raft of restrictions on travellers from infected nations. The situation has worsened in other nations with more than 2,000 people infected and 30 reported deaths, following which almost every nation put up stringent restrictions on travellers from infected countries.

Iran, Italy and South Korea witnessed a drastic increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths while numerous nations in the Middle East are reporting their first case of the novel coronavirus. WHO Chief commended China's drastic quarantine measures in several cities insisting that the virus could still be contained and thanking the PRC for their aid in preventing an even bigger spread.

"For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale deaths," Tedros told reporters in Geneva. However, he added that "we should do everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic."

South Korean hotspot

Registering the largest number of nCoV cases outside China is the nation of South Korea, which has reported 60 more infections and another death as of Tuesday, pulling its death toll to 8 and total number of infected to 900. The epicentre of South Korea's outbreak is reportedly around a religious sect in Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city.

South Korea remains on its highest "red" alert and has extended school holidays to aid the containment effort, requesting around 2.5 million people of Daegu to remain indoors. Meanwhile, the CDC has raised its caution level to warn the American people against "nonessential travel to South Korea."

With seven reported deaths and over 200 cases, Italy has been forced to lock down 11 towns and schedule upcoming football matches in its Serie A and the Europa League to be played behind closed doors. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks of lockdown with law enforcement officials manning checkpoints to enforce a blockade.

Iranian paranoia

Officially known as COVID-19, the disease has spread to Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and other countries. Iran reported 12 deaths, making this the highest number of people the virus has killed outside of China. 

Reports from a semi-official news agency named ILNA highlight concerns that the situation might be worse than is officially acknowledged. The agency quoted one local lawmaker in the hard-hit religious centre of Qom who has reason to believe that 50 people died from COVID-19.

The statements in the report have been denied by the Iranian government, which has pledged transparency. Head of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, Michael Ryan stated that a team from the UN agency would be arriving in Iran on Tuesday. 

However, he advised against drawing any conclusions about the mortality rate, deducing that Iran may only be facing severe cases as the epidemic was still at an early stage in the country. 

Chinese origins

508 new cases were reported in China and only 9 were at the epicentre in central Hubei province. Though it is a visible increase from 409 cases on Monday, the overall number of new infections being reported has decreased, when compared to those of last week. China's death toll reached 2,663 on Tuesday after 71 more people died. The epidemic peaked in China between January 23 and February 2, per WHO Chief Tedros. 

56 million people in Hubei and its capital have been quarantined by China in the last month, while other regions have enacted travel restraints and measures to keep millions more indoors. Global markets plunged on Monday with Wall Street off 3.6 per cent, reflecting the global anxiety.