International concern about the spread of coronavirus outside China grew on Sunday with sharp rises in infections in South Korea, Italy and Iran, Reuters reports.
The government in Seoul put the country on high alert after the number of infections surged over 600 with six deaths. A focal point was a church in the southeastern city of Daegu, where a 61-year-old member of the congregation with no recent record of overseas travel tested positive for the virus.
In Italy, officials said a third person infected with the flu-like virus had died, while the number of cases jumped to above 150 from just three before Friday.
Authorities sealed off the worst affected towns and banned public gatherings in much of the north, including halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases, to try to contain the biggest outbreak in Europe.
“I was surprised by this explosion of cases,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told state broadcaster RAI, warning that the numbers would likely rise in the coming days. “We will do everything we can to contain the contagion.”
Italian health authorities were struggling to find out how the virus started. “If we cannot find ‘patient zero’ then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous than we thought,” said Luca Zaia, the regional governor of the wealthy Veneto region.
Almost a dozen towns in Lombardy and Veneto with a combined population of some 50,000 have effectively been placed under quarantine.
The European Union said it had confidence in the Italian authorities. “We share concern for possible contagion (but) there is no need to panic,” the bloc’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.
Iran, which announced its first two cases on Wednesday, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths, with most of the infections in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on the Islamic Republic.
The virus has killed 2,442 people in China, which has reported 76,936 cases, and has slammed the brakes on the world’s second largest economy. It has spread to some 28 other countries and territories, with a death toll of around two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.
“Despite the continuing decline in reported cases from China, the last two days have seen extremely concerning developments elsewhere in the world,” said Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday it was worried by the detection of infections without a clear link to China.