BEIJING (ALJAZEERA) — The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has intensified around the world, with South Korean cases more than doubling to reach 433 – the highest number outside of China.
Italy on Saturday confirmed its first two deaths from the virus as authorities moved to close schools, bars and other public spaces in 10 northern towns.
Meanwhile in the Middle East, Iran’s health ministry reported a sixth death on Saturday, a day after Israel and Lebanon confirmed their first cases.
Mainland China noted a significant fall in the number of new cases, with 397 reported on Saturday. The total number of cases in mainland China rose to 76,288 and there have been 2,345 deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the window of opportunity to stem the deadly epidemic was “narrowing” amid concern about a surge in cases with no clear link to China.
Israel has expanded quarantine regulations, requiring all those returning from South Korea and Japan to remain in isolation for two weeks. Quarantine was previously mandated for Israelis returning from China, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.
The move came as Israel’s Health ministry said nine South Korean nationals who visited Israel and the West Bank in February have tested positive for the virus.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry issued a similar instruction on Saturday.
All the nine tourists returned to South Korea and it is currently unknown whether they were infected with the virus before or after arriving in Israel.
Is WHO mishandling the coronavirus response?
More and more countries are reporting cases of the new coronavirus, with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warning that the window of opportunity for containment is narrowing.
The UN health agency has been criticized for a slow response to the epidemic as well as previous health emergencies.
Al Jazeera’s Inside Story program discusses whether a change in approach is needed.
US raise travel advisory level
The United States has raised the travel advisory level for South Korea to “Level 2: Exercise increased caution” as the number of coronavirus cases in the Asia Pacific nation surged to 433.
According to a statement on the US State Department’s website, travellers to South Korea should avoid contact with sick people and clean their hands often with soap and water.
Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions should discuss travel with their healthcare provider and consider postponing non-essential travel, the statement said.
Sixth death confirmed in Iran
Iranian officials have reported a sixth death from the new coronavirus.
The governor of Markazi province told the official IRNA news agency that tests of a patient who recently died in the central city of Arak were positive for the virus.
Ali Aghazadeh said the person was also suffering from a heart problem.
It is not clear whether the sixth fatality is included in the 28 cases confirmed by Iran earlier on Saturday.
Italian Serie B football match postponed
A football match in Italy’s second division was called off around one hour before the scheduled kick-off because of fears over the spread of the virus.
Italian news agency ANA said the Ascoli-Cremonese match was postponed because the visiting side are from the Lombardy region in the north of Italy where 30 cases have been reported so far.
Sports site Gazetta dello Sport said both teams were already at the stadium when they were told of the postponement and that a bus with Cremonese fans was turned back.
FARS: Cinemas and art events closed for a week in Iran
All cinemas and art events across Iran will be closed for one week to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus in the country, semi-official news agency FARS reported.
Iranian officials mull restrictions on holy sites
Iran’s Hajj Pilgrimage Organization has reportedly cancelled all trips for pilgrims travelling to Iraq in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said from the Iranian capital, Tehran.
She added that Iranian officials have decided to close all of Iran’s five land borders with Iraq and are mulling taking action to restrict visits to holy shrines in Qom – where the virus has killed two people – and other nearby places.
Iran closes schools in two cities: State TV
Iran will close schools, universities and educational centres in two central cities to prevent the spread of coronavirus, state TV reported.
It said the shutdown would begin on Sunday in and last two days in Qom and a week in Arak.
CARD: Coronavirus timeline
IMF says virus to shave 0.1 percentage points from global growth
The coronavirus outbreak will likely lower China’s economic growth this year to 5.6 percent, down 0.4 percentage points from global growth, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said.
Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva presented the outlook to central bankers and finance ministers from the world’s 20 largest economies at a meeting in Riyadh but said the IMF was also looking at more dire scenarios if the outbreak lasts longer and spreads more globally.
US says Russia is behind disinformation campaign
Thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to combat the epidemic, US officials told AFP news agency.
False personas are being used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to advance Russian talking points and conspiracies, including suggesting that the CIA is behind the virus that has claimed more than 2,300 lives, mostly in China.
“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.
“By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting the global health response,” he said.
UK passengers from virus-hit cruise ship arrive home
More than 30 British and European passengers arrived back home in the United Kingdom after spending more than two weeks stuck on a quarantined cruise ship in a Japanese port due to the coronavirus outbreak, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed.
They landed at a defence ministry airfield in southwestern England on a government-chartered plane from Tokyo and were being taken straight to quarantine facilities.
The Diamond Princess liner was carrying 3,700 people, including 78 Britons, when it was quarantined in Yokohama on February 5. (IAMIGO/sovereignph.com)