Infections climb in South Korea as world fights virus

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea reported an eight-fold jump in viral infections Saturday with more than 400 cases mostly linked to a church and a hospital, and the death toll in Iran climbed to five from a new virus that started in China but has spread globally.

Visitors wearing face masks walk near the Gwanghwamun, the main gate of the 14th-century Gyeongbok Palace, and one of South Korea's well-known landmarks, in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. South Korea on Saturday reported a six-fold jump in viral infections in four days to 346, most of them linked to a church and a hospital in and around the fourth-largest city where schools were closed and worshipers and others told to avoid mass gatherings. (Source: AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korea’s Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip says the outbreak has entered a serious new phase but expressed cautious optimism that it can be contained to the region surrounding Daegu, where the first case was reported on Tuesday.

Globally, nearly 78,000 people have been infected in 29 countries, and more than 2,300 have died.

A dozen towns in Italy effectively went into lockdown after the deaths of two people infected with the virus.

South Korea on Saturday reported most of the new infections linked to a church and a hospital in and around the fourth-largest city where health workers scrambled to screen more than 9,000 worshipers.

There’s concern that the death toll, currently at three, could grow.

The vice health minister says virus patients with signs of pneumonia or other serious condition from the Cheongdo hospital were transferred to other facilities, 17 of them critical.

He says the outbreak entered a serious new phase, but still expressed hope it can be contained to the southeastern Daegu region.

In some positive news, China’s daily count fell to 397 cases, though another 109 people died of the disease.

Judge halts plan to move virus patients to California city

A judge has put on hold a U.S. plan to quarantine up to 50 people infected with a new virus from China in a Southern California city.

Costa Mesa officials asked for a court to intervene Friday after learning that federal authorities planned to move patients to facility in the city as early as Sunday.

They said they were not included in the planning effort and wanted to know how the local community would be protected from the possible spread of the virus that has spread globally.

The judge has issued a temporary restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for Monday.

Iran now says 6 dead

Authorities in Iran have reported a sixth death from the new virus that emerged in China.

The governor of Markazi province told the official IRNA news agency Saturday that tests of a patient who recently died in the central city of Arak were positive for the virus.

Ali Aghazadeh said the person who died was suffering from a heart problem, too.

Earlier on Saturday, Iranian health authorities reported a fifth death from the new virus and said the fatality was among 10 new confirmed cases of the virus in Iran.

Italy towns close down amid virus case clusters, 2 deaths

A dozen towns in northern Italy are effectively locked down after the deaths of two people infected with the new virus from China and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad.

The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in the Lombardy and Veneto regions to order schools, businesses, and restaurants closed, and to cancel sporting events and Masses.

A national ordinance initially imposed restrictions on 10 towns southeast of Milan.

The president of Lombardy said there were 39 confirmed cases in the region on Saturday, where 10 towns received orders to suspend nonessential activities and services.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.