World

South Korea alert at highest level as coronavirus cases surge

South Korea alert at highest level as coronavirus cases surge
A sharp fall in new deaths and cases of the coronavirus has been reported in China, but world health officials warn it is too early to make predictions about the outbreak as infections rise elsewhere.
Chinese authorities say the mainland had 397 new confirmed cases on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier.
The numbers surged elsewhere, though, with outbreaks worsening in South Korea, Iran, Italy and Lebanon.
Medical workers wearing protective gears move a patient suspected of contracting the new coronavirus from an ambulance to the Kyungpook National University Hospital in Daegu, South Korea. (AP)
In South Korea, new coronavirus cases jumped by 123 to 556 on Sunday and the death toll rose to five, according to the Korea Centres for Disease and Control and Prevention (KCDC).
More than half the additional cases were found to be linked to a Shincheonji Church of Jesus congregation in the southeastern city of Daegu after a 61-year-old woman known as "Patient 31" who attended services at the church tested positive for the virus last week. The woman had no recent record of overseas travel.
A majority of 309 or 55.6 per cent of the total 556 confirmed cases were linked to the Shincheonji Church, the KCDC said.
In response, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in says the government will raise the country's disease alert by one notch to the highest level in a bid to contain the surge
KCDC has also designated both the city of Daegu and Cheongdo county as "special care zones" on Friday.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation welcomed the reported decline in new Chinese cases, but said it was concerned about the number of new infections elsewhere with no clear link to China such as travel history or contact with a confirmed case.
"Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The UN agency is calling for $US675 million ($A1 billion) to support most vulnerable countries, he said, adding 13 countries in Africa are seen as a priority because of their links to China.
Multiple government agencies gather beside buses to take Australian evacuees from the coronavirus-struck cruise ship Diamond Princess after they arrived on a Qantas flight from Japan at Darwin International Airport in Darwin, Thursday, February 20, 2020. (AAP)
In total, China has reported 75,569 cases to the WHO, and 2239 deaths.
In Australia, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 22, including 10 people who have recovered from the illness.
Seven cases have now been confirmed among the group of 164 who are being kept at the Howard Springs quarantine camp near Darwin after leaving the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama.
According to available data, the disease remains mild in 80 per cent of patients, and severe or critical in 20 per cent. The virus has been fatal in two per cent of reported cases.
The disease has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing 13 people, according to a Reuters tally.
The latest Chinese figures showed only 31 of the new cases on Friday were outside of the virus epicentre of Hubei province, the lowest number since the National Health Commission started compiling nationwide data a month ago.
But new, albeit isolated, findings about the coronavirus could complicate efforts to thwart it, including the Hubei government's announcement on Saturday that an elderly man took 27 days to show symptoms after infection, almost twice the presumed 14-day incubation period.
How does coronavirus affect the body? (Graphic: Tara Blancato)
That follows Chinese scientists reporting that a woman from Wuhan had travelled 675km and infected five relatives without showing signs of infection.
State television showed the arrival in Wuhan of the "blue whale" on Saturday, the first of seven river cruise ships being brought in to some of the tens of thousands of medical workers who have been sent to Hubei to contain the virus.
Social media users posted footage and images of some malls reopening, including in the cities of Wuxi, Hangzhou and in Gansu province.
Shoppers queued in near-empty streets outside for mandatory temperature checks as trickles of customers in masks perused luxury goods shops and makeup counters.
Iran, which had no reported cases earlier this week, has now detected 10 new cases of coronavirus, taking the number to 28 infections and five deaths.
Japan, which confirmed 14 new cases on Saturday, faces growing questions about whether it is doing enough to contain its outbreak and whether the virus could disrupt this year's Tokyo Olympics.
Organisers postponed the start of training for volunteers as a precaution.
- Reuters
© AAP 2020