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Coronavirus spreads in Iran as new cases ease in China

Outbreaks in the Middle East, Europe and South Korea have contrasted with a rise in optimism in China.


South Korean army trucks spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus on a street in Ulsan, South Korea (Yonhap/AP)

South Korean army trucks spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus on a street in Ulsan, South Korea (Yonhap/AP)

South Korean army trucks spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus on a street in Ulsan, South Korea (Yonhap/AP)

The coronavirus has spread deep into Iran’s government, as South Korea ramped up its fight against the epidemic by starting drive-through testing.

Meanwhile, the G7 nations have attempted to shore up global confidence with a pledge to use “all appropriate tools” to counter the economic fallout of the virus.

Mushrooming outbreaks in the Middle East, Europe and South Korea have contrasted with increased optimism in China, where thousands of recovered patients are going home.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Virus clusters in the US have led schools and subways to carry out deep cleans, with efforts to search for a vaccine stepped up amid fears of vulnerability among nursing home residents.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said of the outbreak: “We are in uncharted territory.”

Iran’s supreme leader ordered the military to assist health officials in fighting the virus, which authorities say has killed 77 people – the deadliest outbreak outside China.

Among the dead in Iran are a confidant of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican and a recently elected member of parliament. The sick include 23 members of parliament and the head of the country’s emergency services, state media reported.

Iran’s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said some people are stockpiling medical supplies for profit, and urged prosecutors to show no mercy.

“Hoarding sanitising items is playing with people’s lives, and it is not ignorable,” he said.

France’s finance minister ordered an investigation into possible price spikes for sanitiser, and warned that binge-shopping for household essentials could trigger shortages.

President Emmanuel Macron announced that the French government would be requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks.

South Korea saw its largest daily increase in new cases on Tuesday, with 851 more infections reported, largely in and around the south-eastern city of Daegu. In all, 5,186 people in South Korea have tested positive for the virus.

In the capital of Seoul, drive-through virus testing centres began operating, with workers dressed head-to-toe in white protective suits leaning into cars with mouth swabs – a move meant to limit contact with possible carriers of the illness. Troops were also dispatched across the city to spray streets and alleys with disinfectant.

Outbreak control measures in Iran
People have their temperature checked and their hands disinfected as they enter the Palladium Shopping Centre, in northern Tehran (AP)

The G7 countries held off announcing specific new measures to help the global economy cope with the disruptions.

Many traders had been hoping for a broad package of economic support. Instead, the G7 finance ministers and central bankers reaffirmed their commitment to use “all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth and safeguard against downside risks”.

Stock markets rallied after the benchmark US Federal Reserve announced it is cutting interest rates by half a percentage point – its first emergency cut between regular meetings since the 2008 recession.

Chairman Jerome Powell noted that the coronavirus “poses evolving risks to economic activity”.

Worldwide, more than 90,000 people have been taken ill and 3,100 have died. The number of countries hit by the virus has reached at least 70, with Ukraine and Morocco reporting their first cases.

In China, the count of new cases dropped again on Tuesday, with just 125 reported. It is still by far the hardest-hit country, with more than 80,000 infections and about 95% of the world’s deaths.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations said the country is winning its battle against Covid-19.

Zhang Jun said: “We are not far from the coming of the victory.”

In Italy, the count of infected people climbed to 2,036 with 52 dead. Officials said it could take up to two weeks to know whether measures including quarantines in 11 northern towns are working.

Outbreak control measures in South Korea
Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a bus garage in Gwangju, South Korea (Newsis/AP)

The US count of Covid-19 cases surpassed 100, spread across at least 11 states. There have been six deaths, all in Washington state.

On Capitol Hill, aides said negotiations are nearing completion on an emergency bill to fund the development of a vaccine and offer disaster loans to businesses hurt by the crisis.

Surgeon general Jerome Adams, a leading public health official in the US, called for calm, urging: “Caution, preparedness, but not panic.”

In Japan, questions continued to build about how the virus might affect the Olympics.

Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto said the country is “making the utmost effort” to proceed with the games’ planned opening on July 24 in Tokyo.

But she told parliament that the country’s contract with the International Olympic Committee only specifies that the games be held in 2020, meaning they could be postponed to later in the year if necessary.