S. Korea reports 161 new virus cases, bringing total to 763

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea has reported 161 new cases of the new virus that has spread rapidly in the region surrounding its southwest city of Daegu, bringing its total number of cases to 763.

Officials on Monday also confirmed two more deaths of virus patients, bringing its death toll to seven.

South Korea’s president said Sunday that he was putting his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases, ordering officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to stem the spread of the outbreak.

The coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness has infected tens of thousands of people, mostly in China.

A continent away from where the viral illness emerged, authorities in Italy battled to contain Europe’s first major outbreak and Iran reported eight deaths – the highest toll outside of China. While the number of patients worldwide is increasing, some virus clusters have shown no link to China and experts are struggling to trace where those clusters started.

The Iranian health ministry said there were now 43 confirmed cases in Iran, which did not report its first case of the virus until Wednesday.

In Italy’s northern Lombardy region, which includes the nation’s financial capital, Milan, the governor announced Sunday that the number of confirmed cases stood at 110. Italy now has 152 cases, the largest number outside of Asia, including three deaths, the most recent on Sunday.

Venice, which is full of tourists for Carnival events, reported its first two cases, said Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia, whose region includes the lagoon city. It wasn’t immediately known if the two infected had participated in Carnival festivities.

As Italy scrambled to check the spread of the virus, authorities announced that all Carnival events had been called off as well as major league soccer matches in the stricken region. Cinemas and theaters were also ordered shuttered, including Milan’s legendary La Scala.

Warning that China’s virus epidemic is “still grim and complex,” President Xi Jinping called for more efforts to stop the outbreak, revive industry and prevent the disease from disrupting spring planting of crops.

Xi defended the ruling Communist Party’s response as “timely and effective” in a video conference with officials in charge of anti-disease work, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

“The current epidemic situation is still grim and complex,” Xinhua cited Xi as saying. “Prevention and control are at the most critical stage.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his government had increased its anti-virus alert level by one notch to “Red,” the highest level. It allows for the temporary closure of schools and reduced operation of public transportation and flights to and from South Korea.

The new school year for kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in South Korea was put off by one week until March 9.

Moon said the outbreak “has reached a crucial watershed,” and that the next few days will be critical. “We shouldn’t be bound by regulations and hesitate to take unprecedented, powerful measures,” he said.

Electric screens about precautions against the illness COVID-19 are seen in a subway train in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. South Korea’s president said Sunday that he was putting his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases and ordered officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to fight a soaring viral outbreak. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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