An eruption of new virus cases in South Korea, Iran and Chinese hospitals and prisons rekindled concerns Friday about the spread of a deadly disease that has killed more than 2,200 people.
The World Health Organization warned nations they could face a serious problem if they fail to "hit hard now" against the new coronavirus, which has infected more than 75,000 in China and over 1,100 abroad.
China has pointed to official numbers showing a drop in new cases this week as evidence that its drastic containment measures are working, but fresh cases emerged at two Beijing hospitals and more than 500 others were reported in prisons across the country.
Chinese authorities have placed tens of millions of people under quarantine in hard-hit central Hubei province and restricted movements in other cities far from the epicentre.
Countries have banned travellers from China and airlines have suspended flights to and from the country.
But clusters and outbreaks continue to emerge, and 11 people have now died outside mainland China.
Chinese officials said a potential vaccine could be submitted for clinical trials around late April.
South Korean sect
South Korea on Friday confirmed 52 more cases, taking the country's overall figure to 156, as the number of infections linked to a religious sect spiked, making it the worst-infected country outside China.
More than 80 members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu have now been infected, starting with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on February 10 but attended at least four church services before being diagnosed.
The mayor of Daegu — South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million — has advised residents to stay indoors, while access to a major US base in the area has been restricted.
The streets remained open Friday with most people wearing masks, but many businesses were closed due to the outbreak and workers on motorcycles sprayed disinfectant outside the church.
Outside the church, Seo Dong-min, 24, told AFP: "With so many confirmed cases here I'm worried that Daegu will become the second Wuhan," referring to Hubei's capital, where the virus first emerged.
Iran confirms cases, Japan ship begins evacuation
Iran confirmed three new cases after two elderly men died from the virus in the city of Qom, prompting Iraq to ban travel to and from its neighbour.
Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpour said two of the new cases were also in Qom and the other was in Arak, south of the holy city.
In Australia, two people who had been evacuated from a virus-wracked cruise ship off Japan tested positive for mild cases of the COVID-19 illness.
Hundreds of people have been allowed to leave the ship after testing negative for the disease and many have returned to their home countries to face further quarantine.
The two cases in Australia will fuel questions about Tokyo's policy of allowing former Diamond Princess passengers to return home after testing negative.
Two former passengers, both Japanese and in their 80s, died in Japan on Thursday.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that now "is the time to attack the virus" while the number of cases abroad remains low.
"If we don't hit hard now using the window of opportunity we might be faced with a serious problem," he said. "This virus is very dangerous and it's public enemy number one and it's not being treated as such."
Prisons and hospitals
China repoRead More – Source