February 22 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton and Tara John, CNN

Updated 9:02 p.m. ET, February 22, 2020
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11:11 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

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

From CNN's Amir Tal and Oren Liebermann

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

From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht and Hande Atay Alam in Atlanta

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

From CNN's Anneken Tappe

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

From CNN's Sophie Jeong in Seoul

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

From CNN's Luke McGee

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

7:51 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Evacuation flight for Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers lands in UK

From CNN's Sarah Dean in London

A plane carrying 32 British and European passengers, as well as government and medical staff, landed in the UK on Saturday morning.

It landed at Boscombe Down Ministry of Defence base near Salisbury in southwest England.

On Friday, 253 people who tested negative for novel coronavirus onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship disembarked the vessel after 14 days of quarantine in Yokohama port.

There are 31 passengers left onboard the ship.

7:32 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

Samsung Electronics shuts South Korean smartphone plant after confirmed virus case

From CNN's Sophie Jeong

Samsung Electronics said on Saturday that one coronavirus case had been confirmed at its smartphone factory complex in the South Korean city of Gumi.

The plant has been shut down until Monday morning, while the floor where the infected employee worked will be closed until February 25, Samsung said in a statement.  

"On Feb. 22, an employee working at Samsung Electronics' Gumi Complex was tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” Samsung said.

“The company plans to implement all necessary measures for disinfection and containment promptly."

The company has also identified colleagues who came in contact with the infected employee, and has taken measures to place them in isolation and get them tested.

6:53 a.m. ET, February 22, 2020

WHO concerned about increase in international coronavirus cases

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, seen here speaking on January 28 in Beijing, reiterated on Saturday that the window of opportunity to contain the virus is narrowing.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, seen here speaking on January 28 in Beijing, reiterated on Saturday that the window of opportunity to contain the virus is narrowing. Naohiko Hatta/Pool/Getty Images

The increase in confirmed cases beyond China has become a cause for concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Saturday.

"Although the total number of cases outside China remains relatively small, we are concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case," he said.

The increase in cases in Iran, South Korea and Italy "is also a matter of concern and how the virus is now spreading to other parts of the world," he added.

The director general reiterated that while there is still a chance to contain the virus, "the window of opportunity is narrowing."

"Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for (the virus) to spread in countries with weaker health systems."

While 80% of patients exhibiting mild symptoms will recover, 20% of patients with "severe or critical disease, ranging from shortness of breath to septic shock and multi-organ failure," require "respiratory support machines that are, as you know, in short supply in many African countries," he added.

The WHO has supplied laboratory test kits and 30,000 sets of protective equipment to a number of priority countries in Africa, many of which have "direct links to China or their high volume of travel with China."

"We’ve also published a Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with a call for $675 million to support countries, especially those which are most vulnerable," he said.

There are over 77,700 cases globally, and at least 17 deaths outside mainland China.