February 27 coronavirus news
Saudi Arabia has suspended pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina for people outside the country over novel coronavirus fears. The kingdom, which bills itself as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest sites, will open religious rituals to residents and nationals only.
In recent years, diplomatic rifts in the region restricted travel for pilgrims from Qatar and Iran, prompting an outcry. But a wholesale temporary ban on foreign visits to the holy sites is a first in living memory.
Across the Middle East, governments have been struggling to cope with the spread of Covid-19. Iran, a regional breeding ground for the virus, has canceled this Friday’s prayers in affected provinces. Iraq has closed schools, public offices and other public gatherings until March 7.
Kuwait, which has the second-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases after Iran, is also scrambling to stem the spread of the virus, evacuating citizens from Iran and Italy, which has also seen a surge in the virus.
The majority of Middle Eastern coronavirus cases have come from Iran, one of the biggest outbreak countries outside of China. Iran has 141 confirmed cases, and 22 have died from the sickness, according to state media.
Saudi Arabia, which froze diplomatic relations with Iran in 2016, has no reported cases of the virus. In addition to stopping pilgrimages for outsiders, preventative measures include suspending the entry of nationals of “countries with confirmed Coronavirus outbreaks,” according to a tweet by the Saudi foreign ministry.
“Saudi Arabia stress that these measures are temporary and subject to continuous evaluation by the relevant authorities,” a graphic embedded in the tweet said. “We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm. #CoronaVirus #COVID19”
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all elementary, junior high and high schools to close from Monday until the end of March, when their spring vacation concludes.
The move comes amid fears over the spread of coronavirus in Japan, and after criticisms of how authorities there dealt with the quarantine of a cruise ship earlier this month.
A top Japanese government adviser has admitted that the quarantine measures enacted on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama may have allowed additional infections to spread among the ship's crew and passengers.
The number of confirmed cases in Japan has risen to more than 800 -- nearly 700 of which were reported on the cruise liner -- and seven people have died.
Twenty-two people have now died from the novel coronavirus in Iran, the worst-hit country outside of China.
The mortality rate from Covid-19 in Iran has soared to over 13% -- significantly higher than any other country experiencing an outbreak of the pathogen. Some suspect that may be down to an under-reporting of the total number of cases, which stand at more than 140. The death rate in China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the virus, is around 2%.
The country, which is already struggling with an economic crisis worsened by crippling US sanctions, is scrambling to contain the virus, as well as the fears it has sown.
Despite the virus' spread, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that authorities won't quarantine any Iranian cities. He also warned about the virus becoming "a weapon at the hands of our enemies," as part of "propaganda" against the country.
Iran's Qom province has become ground zero of the country's coronavirus outbreak with 63 confirmed cases, according to state news agency IRNA. Pilgrimages have continued unabated to the holy city of Qom, despite health officials calling on clerics to limit visitors.
Businessman Son Young-ha, 31, is living at the center of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak.
Out of the more than 1,700 cases of the virus that South Korea has confirmed, more than 1,100 are from the southern city of Daegu.
On the streets, Son said that there are fewer cars and restaurants are less crowded. "It's a lot quieter than before. People seem to be careful of the situation," he told CNN over Skype.
“Weddings and group meetings have been mostly canceled because people are kind of afraid of this situation. I believe that Daegu citizens are aware of the seriousness of the situation, and they’re doing their best.”
But despite that, he says he isn't overly concerned and claims reports of runs on supermarkets and queues for masks are exaggerated.
"Even if you go to a market or a convenience store in front of the house, there’s no shortage of food," he said.
"We don’t doubt the central government and local governments are doing their best, so rather than overwhelming fears, we think that if we work together to deal with the situation, we can overcome it.”
Danish authorities have confirmed their first case of coronavirus in the country, amid fresh concerns over the spread of an outbreak in Italy to the rest of the European continent.
Several European countries have reported their first cases of novel coronavirus in the past two days, with some tracing the cases back to the Italy outbreak.
The Danish man developed a cough and fever after returned from a skiing holiday in Italy’s Lombardy region, where cases of the virus are heavily concentrated.
The man's wife and son, who were also tested in isolation on Wednesday, did not show any signs of having coronavirus, Denmark's health authority said in a statement.
“The guidelines of the Danish Health Authority have been followed. High praise to the staff at Zealand University Hospital in Roskilde for a nice handling,” said Director General of the Danish Health Authority, Søren Brostrøm.
The family members will remain in home quarantine, the authority said.
A woman working as a tour bus guide in Japan has tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time, Osaka's prefecture government said on Wednesday.
The first case of reinfection to be reported in the country comes amid mounting fears over the spread of coronavirus there. The number of confirmed cases in Japan has risen to more than 800 -- nearly 700 of which were reported on a cruise liner quarantined off Tokyo earlier this month -- and seven people have died.
The 40-year-old woman, an Osaka resident, tested positive on Wednesday after developing chest pains and a sore throat, the prefectural government said in a statement. She first tested positive in late January and was discharged from hospital on February 1, after being treated for symptoms at a hospital in Osaka.
The Japanese Ministry of Health guidelines state that coronavirus patients must get tested twice before their release.
The woman had contact with tourists from Wuhan while working as a tour guide in mid-January. An Osaka prefectural official told CNN that she did not attend work, wore a mask at all times and did not have close contact with anyone while she was not in a medical facility.
Health officials in Hong Kong have confirmed an additional case of the novel coronavirus bringing the city-wide total to 92.
In a press conference on Thursday, Dr. Chuang Shuk-Kwan said the latest case is a 70 year-old female, who developed a fever earlier this month. Dr. Chuang added that the newly confirmed patient had previously visited the Fook Wai Ching Buddhist temple, which has now been connected to several other confirmed cases in the city.
Of the 63 patients still receiving treatment in hospital, four patients are in serious condition and one patient is in critical condition receiving treatment in an intensive care unit.
In the past week, new outbreak clusters have formed across Europe and the Middle East, sparking fears and emergency measures.
The outbreaks are centered largely around Italy and Iran; Italy now has 400 cases and 12 deaths, and Iran has 141 cases and 22 deaths. Nearby countries have begun closing borders and implementing travel bans, as the virus spreads across the region.
20 countries have confirmed their first coronavirus cases in the past week:
- North Macedonia
At least seven European countries have reported their first cases of novel coronavirus in the past two days, as the outbreak spreads across the world.
Elsewhere in Europe, Italy is struggling to contain its outbreak -- the largest outside Asia. Meanwhile, authorities in the Middle East are also racing to contain the virus spread.
In Asia, the epidemic is far from over -- South Korea has reported its largest number of new infections yet on Thursday.
What you need to know:
- South Korea spike: The East Asian country reported more than 500 new cases and one death in 24 hours, bringing the national total to 1,766 cases and 13 deaths. Many of the cases are linked to a religious group in the country's south. The total new case count is more than China’s announcement today of 433 new cases.
- Military infections: Joint US-South Korea military drills have been postponed "until further notice" after a US soldier and several members of the South Korean military contracted the virus.
- Diamond Princess quarantine flawed: A top Japanese government adviser has admitted to CNN that authorities knew that by allowing crew members to continue working they were risking further spread of the infection. "We suspected some of the cruise staff may have already been infected, but ... they had to operate the cruise ship itself, they had to see the passengers, they had to deliver the meals," Dr. Norio Ohmagari said
- Virus spreads in Europe: Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Georgia, Greece, Romania and North Macedonia have all announced their first virus infections since Wednesday morning. The number of countries around the world that have reported cases is now nearly 50.
- Cases rise in Italy: Italy has at least 400 infections -- the largest outbreak outside Asia. Many European countries are now implementing emergency measures, with Italy effectively placing 100,000 under quarantine with travel restrictions.
- Trump places VP in charge: US President Donald Trump has placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of efforts to contain the spread of the virus in the United Sates. US health officials have warned the country may have had its first case of community transmission -- where the patient did not have “relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient."
- Middle East borders closed: Iran now has at least 139 cases and 19 deaths. This week, the virus has spread across Middle Eastern nations, including Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain, prompting travel restrictions and closed borders.
- More new cases outside China: For the first time in the outbreak, the number of new cases reported outside of China in a single day was larger than those reported inside the country, said the World Health Organization. China reported 412 newly confirmed cases yesterday, while 459 additional cases were reported outside of China, according to the WHO’s daily report.