China virus cases drop as foreign fears rise

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China virus cases drop as foreign fears rise

Saturday, February 22, 2020

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BEIJING, China (AFP) — Fears mounted Saturday over the growing spread of infections outside China from the new coronavirus outbreak, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a shrinking window to stem the spread of the deadly disease.

The warning came as Europe saw its first deaths from the COVID-19 strain, which has now reached more than 25 countries and caused more than a dozen fatalities outside China.

On Saturday, Italian news agency ANSA reported that a woman in the northern region of Lombardy had died after contracting the virus, a day after a 78-year-old man from the nearby Veneto region became the first local person in Europe to succumb to the illness.

The new wave of cases in Italy has also triggered a lockdown of ten towns — a move with echoes of China's sealing off of entire cities in central Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus where millions remain under quarantine.

A second person also died in South Korea, where the numbers of cases spiked, authorities said Saturday, while the death toll in Iran reached five and a number of new cases were reported across the Middle East.

As cases surged outside China, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the "window of opportunity" to contain the international spread of the outbreak was "narrowing".

He cautioned that if countries did not quickly mobilise to fight the reach of the virus, "this outbreak could go in any direction. It could even be messy".

The outbreak has now claimed 2,345 lives in China and infected more than 76,000 people.

The number of new cases in China outside Hubei has been generally declining, although new outbreaks have emerged in several prisons and hospitals.

On Saturday Chinese authorities reported nearly 400 fresh cases nationwide, less than half the previous day and just 31 outside Hubei.

A WHO-led team of experts are to visit Wuhan, the capital of the province, on Saturday.

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