Below are news updates from Feb. 27. Click here for Feb. 28 updates.
BTS Cancels Concerts in Seoul
K-Pop superstar group BTS is canceling four concerts in Seoul scheduled for April amid a coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.
“We regret to announce that the BTS MAP OF THE SOUL TOUR … has been canceled,” the Seoul-based Big Hit Entertainment said in a statement.
It said the COVID-19 “outbreak has made it impossible at this time to predict the scale of the outbreak during the dates of the concert in April.”
The seven-member boy band was scheduled to perform April 11-12 and April 18-19 at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium.
South Korea has more than 2,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and has recorded 13 deaths.
Swiss Cases Rise to 9, Children in Precautionary Quarantine
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Switzerland rose to nine on Thursday, as the canton of Basel-City put a number of children into a two-week quarantine after one of their caregivers tested positive for the virus.
A young woman who returned to work at a daycare facility after traveling to Milan has tested positive for the new coronavirus, authorities in Basel-City said late on Thursday.
“The young woman who resides in the canton of Basel-City is doing well given the circumstances,” the region’s health department said in a statement. “As a carer for children and young children working at a daycare in Riehen, she came into contact with many children. The health department is now making extensive checks in the patient’s professional and personal environment accordingly.”
The daycare facilities in the town of Riehen normally care for around 100 children, the authorities said, but due to ongoing holidays, only a portion of the children had been present in the facility and in close contact with the affected woman.
California Monitoring Thousands for COVID-19
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that 33 people in California have tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus, and officials are currently monitoring more than 8,400 people for the virus.
Newsom stated that 5 of the 33 patients who tested positive for the virus have left the state. Health officials said some of the 33 positive cases were part of the group of evacuated Diamond Princess cruise passengers who were repatriated back to the United States after spending weeks on the quarantined ship held off the coast of Japan.
Newsom said that 49 jurisdictions are monitoring “8,400-plus” people for the virus. “We knew this was inevitable” due to the contagious nature of the virus, he said.
As of Wednesday night, the United States had 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 42 of which were on the ship, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Iran Death Toll Reaches 26
Iran said on Thursday its death toll from coronavirus had risen to 26, by far the highest number outside China, and the total number of infected people now stood at 245, including several senior officials.
The outbreak prompted authorities to call off Friday prayers in the capitals of 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces, including Tehran and the Shi’ite Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad as well as some other infected areas, state TV reported.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Iran had banned Chinese citizens from entering.
“In the last 24 hours, we have had 106 (new) confirmed cases … The death toll has reached 26,” Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV, calling on Iranians to avoid “unnecessary trips inside the country”.
Iran has also imposed some restrictions on access to shrines in Qom and Mashhad, Health Minister Saeed Namaki told state TV, adding that visitors to the holy sites should “pray and leave”. “Gatherings are not allowed inside the shrines,” he said.
Iranian authorities said hundreds of people initially suspected of having the virus had tested negative and been discharged from hospital.
Authorities including President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran had no plans to quarantine any cities or districts, despite the sharp rise in numbers in a short time.
The government extended the closure of universities and cinemas and a temporary ban on cultural, sports events and conferences for another week.
The death rate among confirmed cases of the virus has been running at around 10 percent in Iran compared to around 3 percent elsewhere. Iran only announced its first infections and deaths from the coronavirus on Feb. 19.
Iranian Vice President Contracts Coronavirus: State Media
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, has contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to state-run media.
Ebtekar, who was also an English-language spokesperson for Iran during the 1979 hostage situation, is suffering from mild symptoms and wasn’t hospitalized, said state media, CBS News reported. She one of several Iranian officials to have contracted the virus.
The death toll from COVID-19 in Iran has risen to 26 while 245 people have contracted the virus, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a statement carried by state-controlled IRNA. The country is the hardest-hit in the Middle East, and many of its neighbors have closed their borders to travel and suspended flights.
Iran has shut down schools, universities, and canceled public gatherings to combat the disease’s spread. The majority of the cases have been confirmed in the city of Qom, the site of an outbreak late last week.
US Fixes Faulty Tests
U.S. health officials said an issue that delayed expanded testing for the new coronavirus in the United States has been fixed, paving the way for public health laboratories across the nation to test patients locally for the disease the virus causes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent test kits to labs across the country earlier this month but one of three steps in the test led to inconclusive results.
Dozens of labs were prevented from testing samples from suspected cases of the new COVID-19 disease because of the issue as some experts called for wider testing for the new virus.
Twelve state or local labs could test samples as of Tuesday. That number has expanded to 40, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told a congressional committee in Washington on Thursday.
The jump came after the Food and Drug Administration “authorized the use of those tests by using just the first and second step to provide a definitive diagnostic,” Azar said, cutting out the problematic third step.
Chinese Doctor: ‘So Many Deaths’
“There are so many deaths. The mortality rate of patients in critical condition is about 80 percent, and the mortality rate of patients in severe condition is 20 percent,” said doctor Chen, who is treating the ill in one of the cities hard-hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China.
In an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times on Feb. 27, Chen discussed what he saw and experienced in the city of Ezhou, about 50 miles east of Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged. Both cities are within Hubei province.
Chen is a young doctor dispatched from another province to Ezhou to help treat the large numbers of COVID-19 patients there.
As a doctor with a lot of experience treating patients with respiratory diseases in intensive care units (ICU) and respiratory care units (RCU), he was assigned to the Ezhou Central Hospital in February to treat COVID-19 patients.
Chinese authorities have forbidden medical staff from accepting media interviews. To protect Chen, The Epoch Times has decided to withhold Chen’s full name and hometown.
Coronavirus Infects Patient for Second Time
A woman who was working as a tour bus guide was reinfected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, testing positive after having recovered from a prior infection, said a local government agency in Japan.
Osaka’s prefectural government confirmed that a woman in her 40s, who tested positive twice, was a resident in Osaka. She tested positive Wednesday after developing chest pains and a sore throat, the government told public broadcaster NHK.
She had first tested positive in late January and was released from the hospital on Feb. 1 and was declared coronavirus-free on Feb. 6, the government said.
However, officials said she started feeling chest pain and throat pain on Feb. 19. After going to the doctor several times, she tested positive again about a week later.
Italy Changes Virus Count Methods at Urging of UN Agency
With tourism tanking and panic rising, Italy is changing how it reports coronavirus cases and who will get tested in ways that could lower the country’s caseload even as an outbreak centered in northern Italy spreads in Europe, officials said Thursday.
Italian authorities plan from now on to distinguish between people who test positive for the virus and patients showing symptoms of COVID-19, the illness the virus causes, since the majority of the people in Italy with confirmed infections aren’t actually sick.
As of Thursday, Italy reported 528 cases and 12 confirmed deaths from the virus, the most of any country outside Asia. All the patients who died were elderly, sick with other ailments, or both.
At the urging of the World Health Organization, Italy also is distinguishing between positive virus tests reported at a regional level and results confirmed by its National Institute of Health. The U.N. health agency insisted that only nationally certified cases are considered official.
“The cases that emerge from the regions are still considered suspect and unconfirmed,” Walter Ricciardi, a WHO adviser to the Italian government, said. “You will see that in the next few days, there will be outbreaks in other countries, too. But the other countries are much more rigorous” in their reporting methods.
Italy’s civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said the Thursday count of 528 cases came from regional reports. Only 282 cases were certified by the national health institute, but that was all the test results it analyzed, Borrelli said.
Official certification therefore wasn’t expected to significantly alter the overall numbers in Italy once they were all counted, Borrelli said.
Out of the 528 cases, 159 infected people have required hospital treatment and 37 were in intensive care, while the vast majority isolated themselves at home in self-quarantine, Borrelli said.
The government is seeking to calm fears about the outbreak, which has seen countries issue travel advisories warning their citizens to avoid visiting hard-hit Lombardy and Veneto regions, which have seen the most cases.
The Italian government has lashed out at what it called alarmist and inaccurate reporting about the degree of contagion and level of panic, and insisted Italy is a safe country and ready to receive visitors.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday that the government would ask all elementary, junior high, and high schools to close from March 2 until spring break, typically around the end of March.
He was speaking at a meeting of the government’s task force to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Australia Starts Emergency Plan, Extends Travel Ban
Australia’s government on Feb. 27 initiated its emergency response plan, warning its citizens to prepare for a coronavirus “pandemic” as the deadly virus continues to spread around the globe.
“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Australia has 23 confirmed cases of coronavirus—15 of these are reported to have recovered. Eight more Australians were infected while aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Morrison also announced Thursday the country has extended its travel ban to March 7, forbidding foreign nationals from entering the country from mainland China for a further week to protect Australians amid the outbreak.
Denmark, Estonia Report First Cases
Denmark and Estonia on Thursday confirmed they had each detected their first known cases of COVID-19.
The Danish Health Authority said that its first patient was a male who had recently returned from a ski holiday in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, Reuters reported. He tested positive on Wednesday night and is in self-isolation at home.
In Estonia, Tanel Kiik, the Minister of Social Affairs, told Eesti Television that their first patient is an Iranian citizen who arrived in the country on Wednesday. They are now being quarantined.
At least five European countries confirmed their first known cases on Wednesday: Georgia, Greece, Romania, North Macedonia, and Norway.
Saudi Arabia Halts Travel to Islam’s Holiest Site
Saudi Arabia on Thursday halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam just months ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage, a move coming as the Mideast has over 220 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The extraordinary decision by Saudi Arabia stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day. It also said travel was suspended to Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina.
The decision showed the worry about the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia. The epicenter in the Mideast’s most-affected country, Iran, appears to be in the holy Shiite city of Qom, where a shrine there sees the faithful reach out to kiss and touch it in reverence.
“Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus, and urges its citizens to exercise caution before traveling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement announcing the decision. “We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm.”
The hardest-hit nation in the Mideast is Iran, where Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 19 people have died among 139 confirmed cases.
Experts are concerned Iran may be underreporting cases and deaths, given the illness’s rapid spread from Iran across the Persian Gulf. For example, Iran still has not confirmed any cases in Mashhad, even though a number of cases reported in Kuwait are linked to the Iranian city.
In Bahrain, which confirmed 33 cases as of Thursday morning, authorities halted all flights to Iraq and Lebanon. It separately extended a 48-hour ban over flights from Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, through which infected travelers reached the island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities but acknowledged it may take “one, two, or three weeks” to get control of the virus in Iran.
As Iran’s 80 million people find themselves increasingly isolated in the region by the outbreak, the country’s sanctions-battered economy saw its currency slump to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in a year on Wednesday.
US Postpones Military Exercises As South Korea Confirms 13th Death
The United States and South Korea have postponed their joint military exercises amid the local coronavirus outbreak in the East Asian country.
“The ROK-U.S. Alliance made the decision to postpone the combined command post training for the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command until further notice,” the Combined Forces Command said in a statement, referring to the Republic of Korea. “ROK JCS and USFK’s commitment to the ROK-U.S. alliance remains ironclad and unbreakable, and the decision to postpone the combined training was not taken lightly.
“The safety of the ROK and U.S. service members were prioritized in making this decision.”
“The ROK-U.S. alliance remains committed to providing a credible military deterrence and maintaining a robust combined defense posture to protect the ROK against any threat,” it added.
CDC Says 15th Case Could Be From Local Transmission
The CDC has said that the 15th individual to test positive for COVID-19 in the United States could be the nation’s first case of local transmission.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, shortly after President Donald Trump addressed the nation on the coronavirus threat, the agency said that one person from California with no travel history to COVID-19-impacted locations and no contact with known COVID-19 carriers had tested positive for the disease.
“At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown,” the CDC said in a statement. “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States.”
The agency explained that community spread is the transmission of the illness from unidentified sources, which the agency added could have been a “returned traveler who was infected.”
The resident of Solano County was identified by his local doctors in the public health system, who notified the agency of a potential case.
The California Department of Public Health added in a separate statement: “The health risk from novel coronavirus to the general public remains low at this time. While COVID-19 has a high transmission rate, it has a low mortality rate. From the international data we have, of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, approximately 80 percent do not exhibit symptoms that would require hospitalization. There have been no confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States to date. California is carefully assessing the situation as it evolves.”
The 15th case is in addition to the 42 passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess and the three Wuhan evacuees who have also tested positive for the virus.
Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Romania Each Detect First Cases
Georgia confirmed on Wednesday its first confirmed coronavirus case who is a citizen who recently arrived back in the country from Iran through Azerbaijan.
According to the country’s health minister Ekaterine Tikaradze, he was then quickly isolated in a hospital where he will remain for monitoring.
A female who returned to North Macedonia from Italy after a month of travel has tested positive for the virus.
She had received treatment for the virus while in Italy, but was not tested, according to the country’s health minister.
Upon her return, she was immediately admitted to an infectious diseases clinic where she tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Norway confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Wednesday, announced the country’s Institute of Public Health.
The patient was identified as a Norwegian who had returned from a trip to China late last week.
“This person is not showing symptoms but … was tested after returning from the region of China where the outbreak began,” agency director Line Vold told a news conference.
They are asymptomatic and unlikely to infect others, the agency said.
The individual is now self-quarantined at home, reported Reuters.
Romania has also reported its first case—a man who came in contact with a visitor from Italy last week, according to AFP.
Seven other people living at the same address as the man have all tested negative for the virus and will now remain in quarantine for 14 days as a precaution, an official with the country’s emergency department told reporters.
Melanie Sun, Mimi Nguyen Ly, Frank Fang, Zachary Stieber, Jack Phillips, Nicole Hao, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
For updates from Feb. 26, click here.