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Coronavirus infections in China exceed 75,000; cases surge in South Korea

As of early March, people have tested positive for the coronavirus in about 70 countries. Officials are taking "unprecedented" actions. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Authorities worldwide warned about the spread of the coronavirus beyond China on Thursday as Japan reported the first two deaths from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, South Korea reported its first fatality, and new cases in Iran sparked fears about many new cases appearing in the Middle East.

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A Japanese man and woman, both said to be in their 80s, were among more than 600 passengers who contracted the disease while on board the Diamond Princess. They left the ship last week and were hospitalized, but they died Thursday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported. A day earlier, an infectious disease specialist slammed officials for failing to observe proper quarantine practices on the vessel.

In South Korea, cases soared by nearly two-thirds, mostly in the southern part of the peninsula, national authorities said. The mayor of Daegu, the city where 10 South Koreans contracted the disease from a church service, asked residents to stay indoors.

Many international experts say the disease will continue to spread globally even as the Chinese government seeks to present the image that it is coming to grips with the epidemic. New cases inside China dropped again Wednesday, officials reported Thursday, after national authorities changed for the second time in a week the criteria for how cases are diagnosed and counted. Here’s what we know:

China tallied a total of 889 new infections and 118 new deaths through the end of Thursday. There is a cumulative total of 75,465 infections and 2,236 deaths, most in central Hubei province. Wild swings in numbers in recent days have raised suspicions over counting methods.

● South Korea reported its first coronavirus death, and the mayor of the South Korean city of Daegu urged its 2.5 million people Thursday to stay indoors, as cases of the new virus soared. Cases in the country rose to 156 by Friday morning, making it the country with the highest number of virus cases outside China.

● In Ukraine, police clashed with protesters angered by plans to allow more than 70 people evacuated from China’s Hubei province to enter the country.

● Iran reported three new cases Thursday, a day after two people died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the holy city of Qom. Iraq’s Health Ministry called for travel restrictions on Iran.

● Meanwhile, researchers still do not know for sure how contagious the virus is, a crucial detail to predict how big the epidemic could get. The virus has spread to more than two dozen countries outside China.