February 24 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, CNN

Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT) February 25, 2020
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8:36 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Germany is not planning to cut travel links with Italy

From Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Germany is currently not considering cutting travel links with Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak, its foreign ministry said Monday.

This comes as Italy's outbreak saw confirmed case numbers increase from three to more than 200 over the weekend.

“There is no travel warning for Italy and at this very moment and we are not intending to issue one,” Maria Adebahr, spokeswoman for the ministry, told reporters at a regular news conference.

Adebahr said that Germany updated its travel and security advice on travel Monday morning. It now reads: “If necessary, enquire at the Italian embassy or consulate responsible for you before starting your journey.”

Germany’s health ministry said Monday that the danger to the German population from the coronavirus remained low. However, the health ministry also said that this “assessment could change at short notice.” 

Read more.

This post has been corrected to more accurately describe Germany's announcement.

6:57 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Iranian lawmaker says 50 people are dead, but health ministry says official toll is 12

From CNN's Sara Mazloumsaki in Atlanta

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks about Iran's coronavirus cases and last week's elections in Tehran, Iran on Sunday.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks about Iran's coronavirus cases and last week's elections in Tehran, Iran on Sunday. Credit: Handout/Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Conflicting claims emerged on Monday about the number of people who have died as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

An Iranian lawmaker has claimed that 50 people have died, and blamed Iran's health ministry for failing to tackle the spread of the virus.

Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from Qom -- the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran -- suggested that the outbreak was far larger than previously reported.

“10 people are dying in Qom daily, the number of people who have died from coronavirus until last night (Sunday night) is up to 50 people," Farahani told the semi-official News Agency Ilna on Monday.

"The minister of health is to blame,” Farahani added. “Qom is not doing well in terms of the spread of the coronavirus, and I think the government's performance in controlling the virus has failed."

But the health ministry denied his claims during a news conference, with a ministry spokesman saying there were 12 confirmed deaths and 61 confirmed cases across the country.

"No one has access to our information, sometimes there is a misunderstanding, because the symptoms of the flu and [the coronavirus] are similar," Iraj Harirchi, the health ministry spokesman, said Monday.

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

Soccer matches in different leagues will continue but without audiences at the stadiums, according to state news agency IRNA. 

6:34 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

There are now 219 confirmed cases in Italy and five deaths

From CNN’s Hada Messia in Rome

An ambulance leaves the municipal hospital in Codogno, southeast of Milan, on February 22.
An ambulance leaves the municipal hospital in Codogno, southeast of Milan, on February 22. Credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Italy has now confirmed 219 cases of the virus, Angelo Borrelli, head of the country's civil protection agency, said during a press briefing Monday.

Of the 219 tally, five people have died and one person has recovered, he said.

Borrelli said 91 of the cases were currently in isolation at their homes.

The northern region of Lombardy is the hardest hit, with 167 of the cases and four of the deaths, he added.

Fears in Europe: After the rise in numbers over the weekend, nearby European countries are getting nervous. Austrian authorities said they will meet today to study the situation and analyze if border controls with Italy are necessary. 

6:20 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Hundreds of East Asian tourists in Israel to be flown back home

From CNN’s Michael Schwartz and Oren Liebermann

South Korean tourists leaving Israel are pictured at a pavillon separated from the main terminal of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on Monday.
South Korean tourists leaving Israel are pictured at a pavillon separated from the main terminal of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on Monday. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of foreign nationals from East Asian countries who are visiting Israel will be flown back to their home countries in the coming days, the Israel Airport Authority said in a statement Monday.

There are currently between 800 and 900 such foreign nationals visiting Israel. 

There is no specific number of how many are from South Korea, but authorities said a representative of the South Korean embassy will be available, based on the list of foreign nationals provided by the Ministry of Tourism.

Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport has been prepared for the departure of these foreign nationals. 

As of last night, 622 South Korean citizens who were visiting Israel have returned to South Korea. Another 879 foreign nationals from other East Asian countries have also returned home, the airport authority said.

Israel has restricted entry for any foreign national who has been to China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore in the last 14 days.

6:07 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Vietnamese airline Bamboo Airways suspends flights to South Korea

From CNN's Isaac Yee in Hong Kong

A plane operated by Bamboo Airways stands on the tarmac on the first day of the airline's operations at Phu Cat Airport in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, in January 2019.
A plane operated by Bamboo Airways stands on the tarmac on the first day of the airline's operations at Phu Cat Airport in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, in January 2019. Credit: Maika Elan/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Vietnamese airline Bamboo Airways is suspending all flights to South Korea starting from February 26th due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement published on Monday, Bamboo Airways said that all flights to and from South Korea will be suspended "due to the latest development of the epidemic and to ensure the absolute safety for passengers and the community."

The statement added that Bamboo Airways will resume flights once the "epidemic is under control."

5:25 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Italy reports its 4th coronavirus-related death

From CNN’s Hada Messia in Rome

A fourth person has died in Italy after catching the virus, a hospital in the north of the country said Monday.

The man had been transferred Sunday from the village of Val Alzano Lombardo to the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, near Milan.

The hospital told CNN the man was 83 and had underlying serious health problems, but did not say what they were. Italian media have variously reported his age as 84 or 85.

He did not know how he became infected, the hospital told CNN.

Why this matters: More than 150 cases have been confirmed in Italy, renewing fears that the virus is spreading globally despite numerous travel restrictions placed on China.

Italian authorities have announced sweeping closures across the country's north and emergency measures Sunday as they scramble to contain Europe's largest outbreak.

5:24 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

The new Chinese press spokesperson is the government's Twitter star

From CNN's Steven Jiang

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs newest deputy spokeman, Zhao Lijian, is seen next to the podium in Beijing.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs newest deputy spokeman, Zhao Lijian, is seen next to the podium in Beijing. Credit: Steven Jiang/CNN

After three weeks of holding daily press conferences online due to public health concerns, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs re-opened its press briefing hall to reporters today -- with new access rules and a new spokesman.

Journalists attending the briefing are required to fill out a health declaration form in advance. After going through security check, reporters have their names cross-checked against an approved list by a ministry staffer as another measures their body temperature. Masks have be worn inside the venue at all time.

Journalists attend a briefing in Beijing on Monday.
Journalists attend a briefing in Beijing on Monday. Credit: Steven Jiang/CNN

These procedures are nothing new as the country continues to battle the spread of the deadly virus -- but journalists were surprised to see a fresh face behind the podium: Zhao Lijian, the ministry's newest deputy spokesman.

"Before seeing his face, you've probably already heard his voice," said Hua Chunying, the ministry's long-time spokeswoman, as she introduced her lieutenant -- in a nod to Zhao's unusual high-profile on Twitter, the US-based social media platform that's long been banned in China.

A Twitter personality: A prolific poster on Twitter with more than 240,000 followers, Zhao has gained fame and attracted controversies for his firebrand diplomacy -- in stark contrast to most of his colleagues who tend to stick to jargon-filled scripts -- by arguing with western politicians and blocking critics of the Chinese government.

Making his debut in a dark gray suit and turquoise tie, Zhao the real-life spokesman sounded far more subdued and scripted than his online persona. 

Wall Street Journal expulsion: Mostly reading from prepared responses, he only appeared irked and dismissive when dogged foreign journalists asked him about three Beijing-based Wall Street Journal reporters -- expelled last week after their newspaper published an opinion piece related to the outbreak with a headline that Beijing deems "racially discriminatory" -- for the tenth time.

"You shouldn't keep badgering me on this issue," Zhao said, waving off suggestions that China is stifling press freedom by banishing seasoned foreign correspondents who played no role in the publication of the commentary. "You should ask the Wall Street Journal why they still refuse to apologize publicly."

5:03 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Five new cases confirmed in Hong Kong

Paramedics carry a stretcher off an ambulance in Hong Kong on February 23.
Paramedics carry a stretcher off an ambulance in Hong Kong on February 23. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Five new cases have been confirmed in Hong Kong today raising the citywide total to 79.

Here are the five new cases:

  • A 35-year-old businessman who lives in Yuen Long district with his wife and family. He visited Shenzhen, in mainland China, in early February. He began having a fever on February 19, went to the hospital on February 21, and was isolated in hospital on February 22.
  • A 57-year-old woman had a sore throat on February 8 and was hospitalized; then, she was hospitalized a second time on February 23. She traveled to Japan on January 26 and 31. She had visited a Buddhist temple in the district North Point.
  • A 68-year-old woman began coughing on February 19, and went to the doctor on February 23. She had also been to the same Buddhist temple.
  • A 59-year-old woman was a passenger from Princess Diamond cruise ship. After being hospitalized, she started having a fever and headache today.
  • A 58-year-old woman was also a passenger on the Princess Diamond. She initially tested negative on February 17, then tested positive after returning to Hong Kong.
4:34 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

China issues travel warning to the US, warning Chinese tourists they may be "treated unfairly"

China has issued a travel warning for the United States, warning that Chinese tourists there have faced mistreatment and accusing the US of overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak.

The travel warning says:

"Recently, due to excessive America’s epidemic prevention measures and the security situation in the United States, Chinese tourists have been treated unfairly repeatedly in the US. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism reminds Chinese tourists to raise their security awareness and not to travel to the United States."

Discrimination abroad: Rampant ignorance and misinformation about the coronavirus has led to racist and xenophobic attacks against fellow Americans or anyone in the US who looks East Asian, experts say.

And the pain ranges from physical to verbal to financial -- people have reported being physically assaulted, shouted at and harassed publicly, and facing financial hardship with Chinese businesses losing customers.

Read more here.