February 23 coronavirus news

By James Griffiths, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, CNN

Updated 0308 GMT (1108 HKT) February 24, 2020
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8:58 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Italy's coronavirus outbreak is the biggest outside of Asia

Tourists wear protective masks as they tour outside the Coliseum in Rome on January 31.
Tourists wear protective masks as they tour outside the Coliseum in Rome on January 31. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images

There are now 78,854 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus and 2,465 deaths worldwide, according to the latest figures.

The majority of the cases and deaths are in mainland China, followed by Japan and South Korea.

Over the weekend Italy's confirmed cases surged from three on Friday morning to more than 130 by Sunday, marking Europe's biggest outbreak.

Here are the top five countries to have experienced outbreaks beyond China:

  1. Japan: 738 cases, 3 deaths. (639 cases on Diamond Princess cruise ship and 99 on land.)
  2. South Korea: 602 cases, 5 deaths
  3. Italy: 132 cases, 2 deaths
  4. Singapore: 89 cases
  5. Hong Kong: 74 cases, 2 deaths
8:31 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Venice Carnival called off due to coronavirus outbreak

From CNN’s Livia Borghese in Rome.

Venice Carnival is being suspended in the face of the outbreak of novel coronavirus in northern Italy, the regional governor announced Sunday.

Public and private meetings are being banned through March 1, Luca Zaia declared, meaning the famous event will not take place.

Schools, universities and museums are also being closed in the Veneto region, Zaia announced.

“We ask for the cooperation of all citizens. It's not an easy moment. But, with the data we have today, we can still hope to limit the contagion,” Zaia said. 

There have been 25 cases in the region, including two in Venice, he said.

8:15 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Kuwait bars ships from Iran due to coronavirus

From CNN’s Nada AlTaher in Abu Dhabi 

A container crane stands idle at Shuwaikh port in Kuwait City, Kuwait, in 2009.
A container crane stands idle at Shuwaikh port in Kuwait City, Kuwait, in 2009. Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP via Getty Images

Kuwait is banning ships from Iran coming into the country’s Shuaiba, Doha and Shuwaikh ports amid fears of the novel coronavirus, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported Sunday. 

“This is a precautionary measure taken to prevent the virus from entering Kuwait, and is part of the country’s plan to fight the virus,” Kuwait Port Authority Director General Sheikh Youssef Abdullah Sabah Al-Nasser Al-Sabah said in a statement, according to KUNA. 

On Sunday, Iran reported that 43 people have tested positive for coronavirus and eight have died. 

7:33 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Northern Italy announces sweeping closures over coronavirus

From CNN’s Livia Borghese in Rome

A person walks a dog on an empty street in Codogno, Italy, on February 22.
A person walks a dog on an empty street in Codogno, Italy, on February 22. Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

Schools and a wide range of public events across the northern Italian region of Lombardy will be closed starting Monday in response to the coronavirus outbreak there, regional authorities announced Sunday.

The closures also affect sports and religious events, museums and university classes, the authorities said in a press release.

Milan, the fashion capital of Italy and one of the country’s biggest cities, had already announced it would close its schools starting Monday for a week. The decision came from the office of Mayor Beppe Sala.

Italy’s top soccer league, Serie A, is cancelling at least three games scheduled to be played in Lombardy and the nearby Veneto region: Atalanta vs. Sassuolo, Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari, and Inter Milan vs. Sampdoria. 

And the Giorgio Armani fashion house is holding Sunday’s Women’s Fashion Show behind closed doors, with no spectators, it announced. The show is scheduled for the Armani theater in Milan.

The Laura Biagiotti fashion house is also closing its doors to spectators for its show Sunday at the Piccolo Teatro Studio in Milan.

The Lombardy region has at least 89 cases, according to the head of the country’s Civil Protection agency, Angelo Borrelli. 

7:16 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Self-quarantine numbers jump to 231 in Israel as fears grow over the virus

From CNN’s Amir Tal and Oren Liebermann

The number of people in Israel instructed to self-quarantine over fears of coronavirus has swelled to more than 200, after a visiting South Korean tour group tested positive for the disease after leaving the country.

As of Sunday morning, 180 students and 19 teachers from three different schools were under instruction to remain at home, the Education Ministry said. The students and teachers had come into close contact with the South Korean tour group at different sites and national parks throughout Israel.

In addition, 12 Israeli border policemen from the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron will remain under self-quarantine, a spokesman for the border police said in a statement. The South Korean tour group visited the holy site on February 13.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Health said 20 workers of Israel's Natural Parks Authority who came into contact with the tour group have also been ordered to self-quarantine until Wednesday at the earliest.

That totals at least 231 people in Israel under self-quarantine. 

In addition, there are also Israeli citizens under self-quarantine who have returned from places such as China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, where a mandatory self-quarantine period of 14 days is required. There is no official tally of how many of these citizens there are.

Anyone instructed to self-quarantine by Israel's Health Ministry is forbidden from visiting any public areas, including schools, hospitals, entertainment centers, shopping centers, and public transport.

Because of concern over the coronavirus and the number of people under self-quarantine in the country, Israel is planning to set up special isolated polling stations for the March 2 election. The Central Elections Committee is preparing for the possibility of approximately 20 such isolated polling stations for affected voters.

6:46 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Italian coronavirus cases surge to 132 as officials struggle to track down patient zero

From CNN’s Livia Borghese and Helena DeMoura

Some 132 people in Italy have been infected with coronavirus, the head of the country’s Civil Protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, announced at a Sunday press conference. 

Of those cases, 26 people are in intensive care, two have died and one has recovered, he said.

Italian authorities still have not tracked down the first carrier of coronavirus in the country, he added.

“We still cannot identify patient zero, so it's difficult to forecast possible new cases,” Borrelli said.

6:44 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Three Serie A soccer matches cancelled over Italy coronavirus fears

Three Italian football matches have been suspended following measures "adopted by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus," Serie A announced in a press release.

The three suspended games -- Inter Milan and Sampdoria, Atalanta and Sassuolo, and Hellas Verona and Cagliari -- were scheduled to be played in the regions of Veneto and Lombardy.

7:58 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Iran confirms 43 coronavirus cases and 8 deaths 

From CNN's Sara Mazloumsaki in Atlanta

A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus in downtown Tehran on February 23.
A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus in downtown Tehran on February 23. Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Eight people in Iran have died after catching the novel coronavirus, and 43 have so far been infected, the country's health ministry confirmed on Sunday.

Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanport told state media that 15 new cases were identified in the last 24 hours. 

The outbreak in Iran began in the holy city of Qom, according to state media. 

Iran’s government announced on Sunday that universities and schools in 14 provinces, including in the capital Tehran, will be closed for a week. 

Soccer matches in different leagues will continue but in empty stadiums, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA.  

6:18 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

"Like a 19th century witch-hunt," says Shincheonji religious group member over coronavirus criticism

From CNN's Ivan Watson in Seoul

Picture of the shuttered building in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul.
Picture of the shuttered building in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul. Ivan Watson/CNN

The South Korean religious group at the center of a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases in the country has rejected a storm of criticism over the outbreak.

Roughly half of the more than 600 cases in South Korea are associated with the controversial religious group, leading to 9,300 Shincheonji members being put into self-isolation.

Outside a shuttered building in Seoul that houses offices and places of worship for Shincheonji, a shopkeeper called the group "heretics" in an interview with CNN.

But Kim So-il, a project director at Shincheonji, defended the group, saying it was in "great difficulty" right now.

“It’s unfair that all people rebuke Shincheonji,” he told CNN. “It’s like a 19th century witch-hunt.”

That was the view reflected by a Shincheonji spokesperson in a televised press conference Sunday, who said the religious group's members are the "biggest victims'" of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.

"COVID-19 is a disease that originated in China and spread to South Korea," the spokesperson said.

"We are sincerely urging everyone recognize that the Shincheonji Church and its devotees are the biggest victims of COVID-19, and refrain from hate and groundless attack."

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.

Jung Eun-Kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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 has said that it "deeply regrets" the outbreak which occurred in their branch in the southern city of Daegu.

Read more about the group here