- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2020

South Korea’s tally of coronavirus cases has quadrupled in three days and Iran’s death toll climbed to four, the World Health Organization said, raising fears of global transmission despite signs of improvement at the epicenter in China.

Officials in South Korea reported 100 new cases Friday, bringing its total to 204. The country also reported its second death from the virus.

South Korea now has the most cases outside of China apart from the Diamond Princess, a formerly quarantined cruise ship that tallied over 600 infections while docked off Yokohama.

Many of the South Korean cases are centered in Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city.

Officials say the spread appears to be tied to services at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Mainstream churches say it is a secretive megachurch akin to a cult, potentially complicating the effort to track down infected persons.

South Korea also reported its second death from the virus, a woman in her mid-50s at a hospital in the southern city of Busan, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Iran, meanwhile, has become a worry spot in the Middle East. It reported 18 cases, including four deaths, in the past two days, according to WHO.

“Although the total number of cases outside China remains relatively small, we’re concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said.

Mr. Tedros said he will dispatch six special envoys to various parts of the globe to deal with the outbreak.

The new coronavirus, which causes an illness known as COVID-19, began in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province.

As of Friday, China reported over 75,500 cases and over 2,200 deaths.
Chinese authorities reported fewer than 1,000 new cases in the 24 hours leading up to the Friday report.

Mr. Tedros said the decline is in part due to another change in methodology.
Chinese authorities this week stopped reporting “clinically diagnosed” cases through chest imaging because the health system Wuhan regained the ability to lab-test all suspected cases. As a result, some clinically confirmed cases tested negative and were subtracted from the overall list.

At the same time, Mr. Tedros said WHO is concerned about an uptick in cases in Shandong Province, China, on the eastern coast.

“We’re seeking more information about that,” he said.

Outside of China, there have been 1,152 cases in 26 countries.

Israel and Lebanon reported their first cases Friday, and Italy said its total more than quadrupled — to 17 — because of a cluster of new cases near Lodi, a city southeast of Milan in the Lombardy region.

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