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Coronavirus: Italy reports first deaths

February 22, 2020

An elderly man from Padua and a woman from Lombardy have died from coronavirus. South Korea, meanwhile has seen a major spike in cases, many of them linked to a Christian sect.

First coronavirus death in Italy
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/L. Bruno

Italy has reported its first two deaths from the deadly coronavirus that is spreading across the globe.

An elderly Italian man became the first European national to succumb to Covid-19 on Friday.

He died in a hospital in the northern city of Padua, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, adding that the 78-year-old had been in the hospital for 10 days for an unrelated illness. 

A second person, a woman in the northern region of Lombardy, also died from coronavirus, Italian news agency ANSA said on Saturday. 

So far there are 29 active cases of the virus in Italy.

Last weekend, France reported the first death in Europe from the virus — a Chinese tourist who had been visiting Paris.

Scramble to contain the outbreak

Earlier on Friday, officials had ordered schools, public buildings, restaurants and coffee shops in ten towns in northern Italy to close after a cluster of 15 other cases emerged.

All cases were located in the Lombardy region, where a 38-year-old man fell ill with the virus after meeting someone who returned from China in late January. Five doctors and nurses and several patients were infected at the hospital in Codogno where he was treated.

People walking down an empty street in the vollage of Codogno, Italy amid the coronavirus scare
People walk down an empty street in the vollage of Codogno, Italy amid the coronavirus scareImage: Reuters/Local Team

Three other people, who all visited the same cafe in the Lombardy region, also tested positive for the virus.

Hundreds of people have quarantined and are being tested for the virus, Italian health officials have said. Over 150 co-workers of the 38-year-old, as well as 70 medical staff at Codogna hospital, are among those being tested.

The new cases represent the first acquired through secondary contagion in Italy and brought the total number of confirmed cases up to 17.

COVID-19 spreads globally

The COVID-19 virus has now infected more than 77,000 people worldwide, with China, where the virus originated, by far the worst affected. China has reported some 2,345 deaths, mostly in the central province of Hubei. 

And while Beijing said new Covid-19 infections had dropped to 397 on Saturday — down from 889 a day earlier, South Korea reported a major jump in cases, with 229 new infections since Friday, taking the total number to 433.

The country, which now has the third-largest number of cases after China and Japan, also reported a second death from the virus.

Most of the cases center around the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu. More than 120 members of the church have been infected.

Officials believe that the tally could move significantly higher, as over 1,000 members of the Shincheonji church reported feeling flu-like symptoms. 

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called the situation an emergency. The cities of Daegu and Cheongdo have been designated special care zones.

Samsung Electronics, meanwhile, suspended for two days operations at a plant in Gumi, 200 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Seoul after a worker was diagnosed with the virus.

Tehran responds to new cases

Iran is also struggling to contain the virus within its borders. Authorities there announced 13 new cases as well as five deaths from the COVID-19 virus on Friday. 

An Iranian official, a district mayor in Tehran, was also tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday, according to state television. 

Most of the other 28 cases are linked to the holy city of Qom, but people are infected in other cities too.

Lebanon also reported its first case — a 45-year-old woman who had recently traveled to Qom.

Authorities in Israel confirmed its first case — a passenger on the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship. The infected person had initially tested negative on arrival in Israel. 

Africa must 'urgently invest in preparedness'

Meanwhile, World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Saturday called on African countries to urgently invest in preparedness to deal with their own possible virus outbreak.

He said the UN body had identified 13 vulnerable countries in Africa because of their direct economic and travel links to China.

The WHO has shipped more than 30,000 sets of personal protective gear to six countries and will dispatch further kits to other African nations in the coming weeks, he added.

Economic hit for China

After China on Friday reported a 92% drop in new car sales in the first half of February, the President of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, Jörg Wuttke, told DW that the economic impact of the outbreak could be massive.

Supply chain disruption could have greater effects than those seen after the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, he warned.

"The [Chinese] economy is going to take a major hit in the first quarter...Transportation is 80% down. Hotels and restaurants are all closed...there is not much activity if any at all. Manufacturing is partially coming back...but the first quarter is basically gone." 

Nevertheless, he was optimistic that international investors would retain their interest in the country.

"China is the place to be. There is no second China," he said.

Meanwhile, Hubei provincial government admitted that the coronavirus incubation period could be as long as 27 days. A 70-year-old man in the province was infected with the virus but did not show symptoms until almost a month later — much longer than the 14 days previously described.

The man, only identified by his family name, Jiang, on January 24 drove his car back to a city in northwestern Hubei from eastern Ezhou, where he was visiting his sister, who had been infected, according to the Hubei government website. He had a fever on February 20 and tested positive for coronavirus a day later, the statement said.

A longer incubation period could complicate efforts to contain the spread of the epidemic. 

'There's no second China,' says trade expert

School shuts in Japan

Japan confirmed four new coronavirus infections on Saturday, as a high school where an infected person taught was closed for two days. The teacher, a woman in her 60s in Chiba prefecture, went to work while showing symptoms. She first showed symptoms on February 12 and was hospitalized on February 19, according to local media. Her school is set to close for two days from February 25.

The second case was a woman in her 30s in the same prefecture, who has been hospitalized but is not showing any symptoms, according to a Chiba government official.

The additional two cases are a man in his 60s and another man in his 50s in Kumamoto prefecture in southern Japan. Ninety-nine people in Japan have so far tested positive for coronavirus — not including the more than 630 cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is docked at a port near Tokyo. Japan has seen three deaths.

lc, kp, kmm/mm (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)

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