●The Italian government said it has 152 confirmed cases, up from three in a matter of days. Three people have died. Authorities have locked down about a dozen small towns and canceled events across the north, including Venice’s Carnival.
● South Korea raised its national threat level to “red alert,” the first time the country has used the highest setting since the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009. The total number of confirmed cases in the country reached 763.
● Iran has confirmed eight deaths related to the coronavirus, the most outside of China, media reported Sunday. South Korea confirmed its seventh death.
●The Chinese government reported 409 new cases across the country on Monday and 150 deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 77,150, with 2,592 deaths.
●Three cruise ships have docked in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, to house medical workers to help the city’s overburdened health-care system. On Sunday, Wuhan’s Union Jiangbei Hospital announced that a 29-year-old doctor had died of coronavirus, the second death of a young doctor in Hubei in recent days.
HONG KONG — Coronavirus outbreaks in South Korea and Italy continued to expand rapidly on Sunday as both countries reported a slew of new cases and Italian authorities raced to seal off hot spot towns.
Although the latest Chinese figures showed new cases largely concentrated in Hubei province, concern was growing about the virus in other parts of the world, including in Europe, which had yet to experience a large-scale outbreak until now, and where containment efforts could test the continent's open-border ideals.
South Korea reported a significant rise in cases on Monday, with 161 new cases, bringing the total to 763, and one more death, for a total of seven. Italy said the number of confirmed cases had reached 152, up from three in a matter of days.
The sudden outbreak in Italy caught authorities there off guard, while causing severe interruptions of the sort that have upended life in China. Universities across northern Italy, where the outbreak is concentrated, are shuttered; major soccer matches have been canceled. Venice's famed Carnival, which can draw more than 100,000 people daily, was suspended two days before its scheduled end.
In the mostly smaller towns where the virus has been detected, checkpoints have been set up designed to prevent most people from entering or leaving. Video from the closed-off hot spot towns showed abandoned piazzas, boarded-up mini-markets and closure signs even on churches. Residents who went outside were largely wearing masks, and in one of the few supermarkets in the area that remained open, the line stretched out the door.
"Since we're dealing with the risk of an epidemic, we cannot say we're certain that we can contain it," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in an interview with Sky TG24, an Italian news channel. "But these are absolutely measures we deem effective — very rigorous — to contain the spread of the coronavirus, to limit the risk of contagion."
But authorities acknowledged that they were seeing cases, including two in Venice, that had no apparent connection to Chinese travelers or the closed-off Italian hot spots, which are mostly concentrated toward the south of Milan.
A broader outbreak would be particularly complicated in Europe, where countries maintain open borders. Conte said changing that policy would be "draconian" and could be devastating for the Italian economy, which is among the weakest on the continent.
The Chinese government on Monday announced 409 more confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total in mainland China to 77,150, with 150 more deaths from the outbreak bringing the total up to 2,592 across the nation.
Within China, the outbreak remains worst in Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged in December. The updated official figures showed that the vast majority of new cases confirmed across China — 398 — were in the province, as were all but one of the new deaths.
Hubei has been under lockdown since Jan. 23, an unprecedented organizational response to a health crisis. As of Sunday, three cruise ships had arrived in Wuhan to house medical workers for the city’s stretched health-care system, drawing mixed reactions from Chinese Internet users.
Japan’s NHK reported the same day that cases had risen to 135 — not including the cases linked to the Diamond Princess, where at least 650 people who traveled aboard the ship are now confirmed cases and three passengers have died.
The Diamond Princess outbreak alone has had a global impact. At least 18 Americans, seven Australians, four Britons and two Israeli nationals have tested positive for the virus after returning to their home countries. Medical authorities in the United States and Australia say they expect to find more cases as more tests are done.
Twelve Indian crew members have been confirmed as cases aboard the ship, India’s NDTV reported on Sunday.
With some new indications that the coronavirus may have an incubation period longer than 14 days and a variety of cases with no clear link to Hubei, as well as lingering worries about China’s counting methods, health officials remain concerned about the risk of a global pandemic.
In China, Hubei remains center of most cases
Wuhan’s Union Jiangbei Hospital on Sunday announced that Xia Sisi, 29, a front-line doctor from the department of gastroenterology, had died of coronavirus on Sunday morning. Xia had been hospitalized since Jan. 19, the hospital said.
The toll on health workers in Hubei has been heavy. China Daily reports that Peng Yinhua, another 29-year-old doctor in Wuhan, died Thursday after postponing his wedding to help treat the outbreak.
China is bringing in seven cruise ships to help house medical workers for the coronavirus response, with the first, named Blue Whale, arriving on Friday evening followed by Changjiang Fu Tai and Changjiang Fu Tai No. 2 on Saturday.
In total, the ships will provide 1,267 beds for health workers, according to local media reports, and China has taken extensive efforts to provide a safe environment, including having a dedicated ship to dispose of waste. But on Chinese social media, opinions were split about the idea, with some comparing it to the situation aboard the Diamond Princess.
Alarm rises in Italy
Just days ago, Italy had only three cases, including two Chinese tourists. But its experience shows the difficulty that countries might face in containing the virus, which can be carried by people who don’t immediately show symptoms.
At the beginning of the weekend, Italy had cases in two of its largest northern provinces, Lombardy and Veneto, mostly spread around smaller towns. But authorities said Sunday that there were also cases in Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna, also in the north.
Neighboring countries expressed concern about their proximity to a high volume of infected patients. Austria on Sunday halted its train traffic to and from Italy for several hours, while a member of France’s parliament asked for reinforced border control during this time of year, when thousands of Italians typically flock to French festivals.
South Korea raises national alert level to highest possible
South Korea’s case total has risen more than twentyfold in a week, from 30 last Monday to 763.
The country’s military has reported 11 cases as of Monday. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo instructed soldiers not to leave the barracks other than for exceptional situations, placing the military under a near-lockdown.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in told an emergency meeting that the country was now at a “crucial moment” that called for all-out efforts from the government and public alike in the face of the virus. Moon raised the national alert level to red, the highest, a first for South Korea since the 2009 epidemic of H1N1 swine flu.
The majority of South Korea’s coronavirus cases have been linked to two clusters at a church in the southern city of Daegu and a nearby hospital in Cheongdo County in North Gyeongsang province.
More than half of South Korea’s cases are traced to the Daegu church, which is a branch of Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony. Shincheonji, a fringe religious sect, is often described as a cult by critics.
The South Korean government temporarily shut down Shincheonji’s 1,100 churches and annex buildings nationwide in an attempt to control the spread of the virus among members and their surrounding communities. President Moon Jae-in called the shutdown “a fair and inevitable step” to ensure community-wide safety and said there was “no intention to limit religious freedom.”
South Korea also confirmed its seventh coronavirus death: a 62-year-old man linked to a hospital in North Gyeongsang province, where four people have died from the virus. The confined environment of the hospital’s locked psychiatric ward possibly helped the virus spread there, according to the KCDC.
Growing fears in the Middle East as death toll in Iran rises
State officials in Afghanistan and Armenia have closed their borders to neighboring Iran as a preventive measure after Iran’s Health Ministry confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths in the country on state television Sunday.
Afghanistan reported its first suspected cases of the coronavirus in the western city of Herat on Sunday, according to the health chief of the province, also called Herat. Three people, all elderly men, had recently returned to the city from Iran, Abdul Hakim Tamana told The Washington Post by phone.
“We do not know at this stage whether they are suffering from cold, pneumonia or possibly coronavirus,” Tamana said.
Thousands of people travel back and forth every day between Afghanistan and Iran because of trade, employment and family ties. Afghan officials were testing all people crossing the border for coronavirus symptoms. But many who travel between the two countries also use informal routes, where screening doesn’t take place.
The outbreak has increased tension between Iran, already isolated by sanctions, and its neighbors. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday that the threat of coronavirus had been exaggerated by the country’s enemies who hoped to cast doubt upon Friday’s parliamentary election.
On Saturday, however, Iran itself ordered the closure of schools and universities in a bid to prevent the outbreak from spreading further.
In Israel, reports that a group of South Koreans who tested positive for the infection had visited some of the country’s most popular religious and tourist spots prompted concern across the country.
Dozens of students who may have been in proximity to the South Korean tourists were directed to stay in home-based quarantine for two weeks, as were hotel housekeepers and employees of Masada, Tel Ber Sheeva and other national parks.
Non-Israeli travelers from South Korea and Japan have been barred from entering the country, according to local media reports, and Israelis arriving from multiple Asian countries face two weeks of mandatory quarantine. South Korean tourists began to return home on Sunday after initially being stranded in Israel because of the country’s ban on travel to South Korea, Reuters reported.
Japanese emperor voices fears about Olympics
More than 800 people in Japan have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, though the bulk of those cases come from the passengers and crew of the Diamond Princess cruise ship — which has reported an additional 57 cases, bringing the total up to 691. Most of the new Diamond Princess cases were among crew members still aboard the ship, officials said.
An additional 147 cases that are not connected to the ship also have been reported, the Japanese Health Ministry said.
The Health Ministry said Sunday that a third passenger had died after leaving the ship. The cause of death was pneumonia, Japan’s health minister said, but the ministry did not disclose whether the man, who was in his 80s, had coronavirus.
In light of the death, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said officials will closely monitor the health of passengers who disembarked from the ship after the quarantine ended, including through daily phone calls.
The United States and other countries have imposed an additional 14-day quarantine on passengers returning from the ship, out of concern the virus was still spreading around the vessel during the initial period, but Japan has insisted its arrangements to isolate passengers and prevent the virus spreading were sound.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito, in his first news conference since ascending the throne, said on Sunday that he was looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics in the summer but that he was concerned about the spread of the new coronavirus, Reuters reported.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a government task force to prepare for a potential surge in the number of people infected with the new coronavirus, NHK reported.
Abe said the outbreak has entered a “crucial phase” with cases emerging around the country where the infection route or a link to China could not be traced. He said authorities need to prepare for a possible jump in patient numbers, by focusing efforts on preventing infected people from becoming seriously ill.
The State Department on Friday raised its travel advisory for Japan and South Korea to Level 2 on its four-level scale, urging older travelers and people with chronic medical conditions to consider delaying unnecessary travel.
Harlan reported from Rome, Kim from Seoul, and Mettler and Iati from Washington. Stefano Pitrelli in Rome, Simon Denyer in Tokyo, Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem and Liu Yang in Beijing contributed to this report.