‘This Will Be a Long Battle’: More Countries Report First Coronavirus Deaths


MARCH 2, 2020

More countries reported their first coronavirus fatalities and the toll grew in places such as China, as the number of deaths from the epidemic globally nears 3,000.

Australia announced its first death from the disease known as Covid-19 on Sunday, hours after the U.S. reported its first fatality. So did Thailand, more than a month after it became the first country outside of China to report an infection. Italy added eight more deaths, with 240 new confirmed cases since Friday.

In China, health authorities said 35 patients died on Saturday, bringing the total number of deaths from the disease in the hardest-hit country to 2,870. In addition, a doctor in Wuhan died early Sunday morning after he was infected while fighting the virus, his hospital said.

The fast-rising number of cases and the spreading death toll from a disease long concentrated in China has sparked fears of a global pandemic, setting off a new round of travel restrictions and sending markets spiraling down. The epidemic threatens to stress hospital systems in less-prepared countries and has crimped economic activity, depriving many people of their livelihoods.

“This will be a long battle,” said Ben Cowling, head of the epidemiology and biostatistics division at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.

China’s count of confirmed cases grew by 573 Saturday to nearly 80,000. Only eight new cases were recorded outside the city of Wuhan, where the global epidemic started.

Over the weekend, Armenia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Ecuador and Qatar each reported their first infections.

The Australian who died was a passenger on the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that had more than 700 coronavirus infections confirmed among the 3,700 passengers and crew. Six of those who were infected died in Japan.

Government officials in Australia said the man had begun to feel sick during an evacuation flight from Japan, and had been taken to a hospital in Western Australia, where he died overnight.

In South Korea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 586 new confirmed cases Sunday, including one death.

Countries have tightened restrictions on travel, as the epidemic has spread. The U.S. will bar foreign nationals who have traveled to Iran in the past 14 days, Vice President Mike Pence said, and the U.S. government is also strongly advising people against travel to areas in Italy and South Korea that have been affected by the virus.

As the coronavirus continued to spread in Italy, Pope Francis on Sunday announced that he had a cold and would be sitting out a week-long spiritual retreat for Vatican officials starting Sunday evening.

The pope made his first public appearance since Wednesday, when he had spoken with a hoarse voice and wiped his nose during Ash Wednesday Mass. He worked on a restricted schedule for the following three days, canceling speeches to large groups but holding private meetings, on account of what the Vatican described as a “slight indisposition.”

It was the pope’s longest stretch of time off for health reasons since his election almost seven years ago, and raised speculation that he might have been infected with the virus. But on Sunday, the pope described his ailment as a cold.

“Unfortunately, a cold requires me to not participate (in the retreat) this year. I’ll follow the meditations from here,” he said.

The pope coughed twice during his 10 minutes at a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square and seemed slightly tired but alert, improvising remarks about his concern for war refugees. When he was a young man he had part of a lung removed after a battle with respiratory illness.

Elsewhere, Iran’s foreign ministry advised its citizens to stay away from South Korea, while the country’s state-controlled news agency IRNA reported Azerbaijan had closed its border with Iran for two weeks starting Saturday afternoon.

City officials in Beijing said both of its two new cases confirmed on Saturday in the Chinese capital were Chinese citizens who flew back from Iran. Ningxia, a Muslim region in northwestern China, also reported two such cases earlier this week.

In Moscow, the Chinese embassy issued a statement confirming that 80 Chinese citizens who had violated self-quarantine rules imposed in Russia have been moved to a quarantine facility.

In a news conference later, China said it understands most countries’ restrictions on travel by Chinese citizens, but saw some as overreaction.

“Some countries had taken unnecessary steps,” said Cui Aimin, director-general of the Department of Consular Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, without elaborating.

In the same press conference, Chinese officials said air travel with South Korea and Japan had been cut back and would be further reduced next week.

Mr. Cui also acknowledged that Chinese cities have been monitoring foreigners arriving from affected countries and have subjected them to the same home quarantines and other disease-control measures applied to Chinese citizens.

Such steps “effectively prevented cross-border transmission and benefited both China and foreign countries,” he said.

Courtesy/Source: The Wall Street Journal