February 22 coronavirus news

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12:32 p.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Italy sees spike in coronavirus cases, as 10 villages shut down

Personnel move new beds into a hospital in Codogno, Italy, on Friday, February 21.
Personnel move new beds into a hospital in Codogno, Italy, on Friday, February 21. Luca Bruno/AP

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy has risen to 55, a spike that is attributed to a rise in cases in the country's north.

This includes 39 confirmed cases in the northern region of Lombardy and 12 in the Veneto region, the head of the Lombardy health department, Giulio Gallera, said at a press conference Saturday.

A 77-year-old female patient with coronavirus was found dead in her Lombardy home, he confirmed.

“We can say she is the second victim of coronavirus in Italy,” Gallera said. But he added that authorities still had to "investigate the relation between the death and the virus."

Infections spike: In Lombardy, 35 people tested positive in the town of Codogno, two in the city of Cremona, and two near the city of Pavia, Gallera added. 

All public activities have also been suspended in 10 villages south of Milan, Gallera added.

According to the Lombardy region website, train stations in three places affected by the outbreak -- Codogno, Maleo, Casalpusterlengo -- will be closed from Saturday.

“All the people (who) tested positive have been in contact, directly or indirectly with the hospital of Codogno,” the governor of Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, said.

Gallera said “patient one” was a 38-year-old man at Codogno hospital, who did not travel to China but met a friend who had. 

Authorities have been testing colleagues, heath workers, and other people who had close contact with the first patient.

12:15 p.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Japanese health minister admits 23 passengers were released from cruise ship without being retested for coronavirus

The Japanese Ministry of Health has discovered that 23 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship were released after their quarantine without being retested, a condition of their release.

“I (feel deep) remorse that an operational mistake invited such a situation and we would like to make sure that such a situation will never occur again,” health minister Katsunobu Kato said during a press conference Saturday.

The ministry also confirmed that one of the ship’s passengers, a woman in her 60s from Tochigi Prefecture in Japan, tested positive for coronavirus after disembarking the Diamond Princess on February 19.

She was among the 443 passengers cleared to leave the ship on the first day of disembarkation after a 14-day quarantine.

She is the first known case of infection after the end of the passenger quarantine period.

4:48 p.m. ET, February 22, 2020

"We are clearly at the brink" of pandemic, says top infectious disease doctor

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci CNN

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN he thinks "we are clearly at the brink" of a coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with CNN's Michael Smerconish on Saturday, the nation's top infectious disease doctor said: "Our fate is going to be determined by the ability of countries outside of China that have travel-related cases. And now they're starting to develop sustained transmission from person to person to person."

"So when you get countries like Japan and South Korea that have these cases that are person to person to person without any real ability to point to where it came from, that's the makings of a pandemic," Fauci said.

"And if you have multiple countries like that, then the horse is out the barn. And it's going to be very difficult to prevent more cases from coming here to our own country."

Fauci said, however, that the risk to the US is still "very low," but warned that could "change rapidly." He also said evacuating Americans off the Diamond Princess cruise ship was a "difficult decision," but he believed it was "without a doubt the correct decision."

11:11 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Israel releases warning on 9 South Korean tourists who tested positive for coronavirus on returning home

In a strong statement, Israel's health ministry warned that nine South Korean tourists who visited the country recently have tested positive for coronavirus upon returning home.

The ministry called on anyone who may have come into close contact with the tour group for an extended period of time to self-quarantine. 

The tourists visited some of the most popular sites in Israel and the West Bank from February 8 to 16, increasing the chance of a large-scale exposure in the region, the ministry said Saturday.

Providing a list of dates and locations, the ministry warned that anyone who came within two meters of the group for more than 15 minutes should self-quarantine for 14 days.

The group visited Masada in southern Israel, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The potential for a large-scale exposure appears to be high given the number of tourists who regularly visit these sites and others.

The release of the statement on a Saturday is an indication of how seriously authorities are taking the threat of coronavirus spreading in Israel. Government statements are rarely released on Saturday in Israel since it is the Sabbath.

This comes after Israel announced its first case of the coronavirus on Friday. The victim is an Israeli woman who returned from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

She was one of 11 passengers flown back from the Diamond Princess. The other 10 tested negative for the virus. All of the passengers remain quarantined in hospital.

10:50 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Number of global cases now stands at more than 77,000

The scene inside an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan, China, on February 17.
The scene inside an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan, China, on February 17. AFP/Getty Images

There are 77,809 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus and 2,372 deaths worldwide, according to the latest figures. The vast majority of these infections are in mainland China but outside its borders there are 1,521 cases in 31 different places. Here's the tally:

Japan: 738 cases, 3 deaths

South Korea: 433 cases, 2 deaths

Singapore: 86 cases   

Hong Kong: 68 cases, 2 deaths   

Thailand and United States: 35 cases each

Iran: 28 cases, 5 deaths 

Taiwan: 26 cases, 1 death   

Malaysia: 22 cases

Australia: 21 cases

Italy: 17 cases, 2 deaths   

Vietnam and Germany: 16 cases each  

France: 12 cases, 1 death  

Macao: 10 cases  

Canada, UAE and UK: 9 cases each     

Philippines: 3 cases, 1 death   

India: 3 cases   

Russia and Spain: 2 cases each

Belgium, Cambodia, Finland, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel: 1 case each

10:32 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

WHO-led team working on the virus arrives in Wuhan

A joint mission working on the novel coronavirus arrived in Wuhan -- the city at the epicenter of the outbreak -- on Saturday, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris told CNN. 

The WHO-led team has previously worked in Beijing, Sichuan and Guangdong, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a Friday press briefing. 

Ghebreyesus said the team on the ground in China includes experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US National Institutes of Health, as well as experts from Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Germany and Russia.

The team includes experts in epidemiology, virology, clinical management, outbreak control and public health.

10:01 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Coronavirus fears have pushed the US dollar to a three-year high

The US dollar index reached a three-year high as investors worried about the global coronavirus outbreak are moving their money into the safe-haven greenback.

Investments considered safe in times of market turmoil have been rallying since the outbreak became Wall Street's number one worry in January. Cases continue to rise globally. The full financial and economic cost of the outbreak is incalculable.

But the United States, as well as dollar-denominated assets, are considered to be somewhat shielded from the outbreak's impact.

America's economy is less reliant on trade and exports than its peers, for example. That means the expected slowing of China's economic growth in the first quarter will hurt the United States less than it will other countries.

And the US economy has been going strong and is in its longest expansion in history.

The Atlanta Federal Reserve's GDPNow model forecasts US growth will accelerate to 2.6% in the first quarter. With a tight labor market and modestly rising wages, the American consumer, who is the backbone of the US economy, is in a good place.

Amid all this, the dollar has been rallying. No other currency stands a chance against the greenback's attractiveness, said Francesco Pesole, FX strategist at ING.

Read the rest of the article here

9:07 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

South Korea entering "grave situation" with virus spread, says PM

An official in protective clothing sprays disinfectant in a subway station in Seoul.
An official in protective clothing sprays disinfectant in a subway station in Seoul. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

South Korea's coronavirus outbreak is entering a “grave situation," the country's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a press briefing, adding the government is "doing its best to prevent the spread."

He urged people to refrain from attending events where many people gather, such as religious events, or to consider other ways such as online meetings.

Chung also said that the government will “sternly deal” with acts that interfere with the country’s quarantine efforts, such as illegal hoarding of hygiene products and mass rallies.

8:50 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

A controversial religious group is at the center of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak

Workers from a disinfection service company sanitize a street in front of a branch of the Shincheonji religious group in Daegu, South Korea, on February 19.
Workers from a disinfection service company sanitize a street in front of a branch of the Shincheonji religious group in Daegu, South Korea, on February 19.

More than half of South Korea's novel coronavirus cases are linked to a branch of a controversial religious group in the southern city of Daegu.

At least 231 of the country's 433 confirmed cases are associated with the Shincheonji religious group, according to South Korea's Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC).

The total number of cases reported in South Korea in the past 24 hours stands at 229, after 142 new cases were confirmed overnight.

Around 9,300 Shincheonji members are being put into self-isolation and will be tested, the country's Ministry of Health and Welfare said Saturday.

The Shincheonji is centered around the personality of its founder and chairman, Lee Man-hee. On a website believed to be the group's official homepage, the group heavily suggests that Lee is the "Promised Pastor" mentioned in the Bible. The passage it highlights suggests that the Promised Pastor is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Members of the group congregate in a way that puts them in close contact with one another for long periods of time.

KCDC Director Jung Eun-Kyeong said at a press briefing on Friday: "(We are) seeing that there is a possibility that the characteristics of many people sitting close together in a very confined space and holding service for more than an hour ... (could have led to) a few who were exposed infecting many (other) infectees."

The group said it "deeply regrets" the outbreak which occurred in their Daegu branch, in a statement released online Friday.

It said its "services, gatherings, and mission activity" have been stopped and all its buildings are being sanitized.

Read the full story here