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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.

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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

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An Australian police detective investigating the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children has been stood down from the case over comments that were seen as "victim shaming".

Clarke and her children died when her estranged husband Rowan Baxter set their car on fire. He also died.

In comments to the media on Thursday, Det Insp Mark Thompson had said it could be a case of a man "being driven too far by issues that he's suffered".

The remarks caused fury in Australia.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said on Friday that Det Insp Thompson had been "distraught" over his comments and "how it came out", and had volunteered to stand aside.

Hannah Clarke and her children were in the car in Brisbane with her estranged husband on Wednesday when it caught fire.

The three children – Laianah, aged four, Aaliyah, six, and Trey, three – died in the car. Police say Rowan Baxter was found dead nearby from self-inflicted wounds. Ms Clarke died in hospital later from severe burns.

Witnesses said she had jumped out of the car screaming that he had poured petrol on her.

It later emerged that Ms Clarke – who was originally reported as going by the surname Baxter – had repeatedly sought police help over domestic violence and had secured court orders.

The reports sparked anger about some of the media treatment of the incident.

'Victim-blaming at its worst'

In a news conference on Thursday, Det Insp Thompson had suggested it could not be assumed the case was straight forward and that it was investigators' job "to keep a completely open mind".

He appealed for anyone with information about the family to come forward.

"We need to look at every piece of information and, to put it bluntly, there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side to take, so to speak, in this investigation," he said.

"Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is thRead More – Source

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Germany will deploy extra police to protect mosques, railway stations, airports and other sensitive sites because of a "very high" far-right threat following the Hanau killings, the interior minister says.

Horst Seehofer said he had agreed the measures with regional leaders, to prevent any copycat attacks.

Prosecutors say the suspected gunman, now dead, was "deeply racist".

Nine people were killed in shisha bars in the western city on Wednesday.

"The security threat from right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and racism is very high," Mr Seehofer said. He called it "the biggest security threat facing Germany".

Muhammed B, a wounded survivor, described from his hospital bed how the gunman took careful aim at the victims in the Arena Bar & Cafe.

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"Everyone he saw, he just shot them straight in the head. He laid down, then he fired at all of us. I hid behind a wall, and as I was moving to hide he shot me in the arm," he told a Turkish TV interviewer.

"It was a bloodbath… We were all lying on top of each other. The guy lying under me had a hole in his neck, he said 'I can't breathe, I can't feel my tongue'," Muhammad recalled through tears. He said he told the young man to recite a final prayer, which he did.

Who were the victims?

Investigators say all the shisha bar victims were of immigrant origin – some were German nationals, while Turkey says at least five had Turkish citizenship. Several were reported to be ethnic Kurds.

The dead also included one person each from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Romania.

At the scene: innocent victims mourned

BBC Europe reporter Gavin Lee in Hanau writes:

Outside the Arena shisha bar this morning, families of the six victims killed here gathered. One young woman collapsed close to the floral tributes, screaming that her sister had been taken from her. Her sister was Mercedes Kierpacz, a 35-year-old German of Sinti Roma heritage. She'd come out that night to buy a pizza and a drink from a nearby kiosk when she was shot dead.

Mercedes' father Filip is shaking and in tears as he tells me his daughter was "the most lovely human being, with two children", and that he feels "utterly lost without her".

A West African woman, Barbara, lights a candle, crying. Originally from Cameroon, she says her 18-year-old son Peter Minnaman was shot and wounded, but survived by playing dead inside the bar when the gunman walked past those he'd shot to check if they were breathing.

There are people in the community who say they saw this coming, who say that hate speech has been an increasingly commonplace thing, and they lay blame on the right-wing German politicians of the AfD party, and their populist anti-migrant rhetoric.

One local, Yusuf, who lives close to the Arena bar, showed me a wall nearby, where police recently covered up graffiti. Written on the wall in huge letters, he said, was something from the suspect's website, written weeks ago.

Tens of thousands of people attended vigils for the victims on Thursday night, in Hanau and Berlin, carrying candles and white roses in silence.

The attack, attributed to a 43-year-old German named Tobias R, is being treated as an act of terrorism.

In her response to the attack Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the "poison of racism".

What happened in the shootings?

The shootings began around 22:00 (21:00 GMT) on Wednesday, and the first target was the Midnight shisha bar in Hanau.

The suspect then travelled by car to the Kesselstadt neighbourhood, some 2.5km (1.5 miles) away, and opened fire at the Arena Bar & Cafe.

Shisha bars are places where people gather to smoke a pipe known as shisha or hookah. Traditionally found in Middle Eastern and Asian countries, they are also popular in many other parts of the world.

Police identified the gunman through information from witnesses and surveillance cameras. Early on Thursday, they stormed the suspect's apartment, near the scene of the second shooting.

The suspect and his 72-year-old mother were found, both also shot. A gun was found next to the suspect's body.

The investigation is now focusing on whether others knew about or helped organise the attack. The suspect may have had far-right contacts in Germany or abroad.

What is known about the suspect?

Tobias R had posted videos and a kind of manifesto on his websitRead More – Source

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MILAN: Three Italian residents have tested positive for coronavirus, Lombardy region said on Friday (Feb 21).

One patient fell ill in early February after meeting a friend who had recently returned from China.

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The other two were the initial patient's wife and close friend, both of whom are now in quarantine, said a government representative Giulio Gallera.

The cases are the first known instances of local transmission of the potentially deadly illness, known as COVID-19, in Italy.

READ: Italy lets passengers off cruise ship after Wuhan virus scare

Around 100 people are being tested for the virus in the northern city of Codogno, where the initial case comes from. Italian media said 60 people had been placed in quarantine as a precaution.

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Prior to Friday's announcement, just three people had been confirmed in Italy to have the virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Two Chinese tourists who came from Wuhan tested positive in Rome in late January, while an Italian who returned from the Chinese city with a special flight repatriating about 56 nationals was hospitalised a week later.

China has had more than 75,400 cases of the coronavirus and 2,236 people have died, most in Hubei province and its capital WuRead More – Source

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TEHRAN: Iran on Friday (Feb 21) reported two more deaths among 13 new cases of coronavirus in the Islamic republic, bringing the total number of deaths to four and infections to 18.

The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday, when officials said it killed two elderly people in the Shiite holy city of Qom.

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They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

"Thirteen new cases have been confirmed," Iran's health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. "Unfortunately two of them have lost their lives."

The newly reported cases included "seven in Qom, four in Tehran, and two in Gilan" on the Caspian Sea coast, Jahanpour tweeted.

"Most of the cases are still either Qom residents" or were people who had come from Qom to other provinces "in recent days and weeks", he added.

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He did not comment on the suspected origins of the outbreak in the Islamic republic.

He added that Iran had so far received from the World Health Organization four shipments of medical kits used to detect COVID-19.

READ: Fewer COVID-19 cases in China as deaths abroad increase

READ: WHO says no time for complacency as China's COVID-19 cases fall

Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and tourists, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.

However, a government official said the first two people who died of the disease had not left Iran.

SPREAD IN MIDEAST

Following the announcement of those deaths, Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from the Islamic republic.

The health ministry in Baghdad said people from Iran had been barred from entering Iraq "until further notice".

Kuwait's national carrier Kuwait Airways also announced it would suspend all of its flights to Iran.

Iran was holding a parliamentary election on Friday, with state media saying that the coronavirus had not been able to dampen "the revolutionary zeal of Qom's people" to turn out to vote.

The new coronavirus has now claimed the lives of 13 people outside mainland China.

READ: China reports 1,109 new coRead More – Source

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AHMEDABAD, India: It may be a misunderstanding, a translation error or his showman schtick, but Indian officials are tempering Donald Trump's expectations that millions of Indians will line up to welcome him next week – by a matter of zeroes.

On his first official visit to India, Trump is due to arrive in the western city of Ahmedabad on Monday and head to a rally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the world's biggest cricket stadium.

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On Tuesday Trump said that Modi "told me we'll have 7 million people" lining the route from the airport, and on Thursday at a rally in Colorado Springs the president went higher still, with "anywhere from six to 10 million people".

Numbers are important for Trump, with the brash billionaire and his chief spokesperson launching a startling assault on the media on his first full day in office, accusing reporters of downplaying the turnout at his swearing-in ceremony.

Indian officials have indeed organised a big "India Road Show" along the 22-kilometre stretch, including 28 stages for performing artists and decorations depicting the life of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.

But a host of officials – including India's foreign secretary and a local member of Modi's party – were less optimistic, expecting anything from just a few thousand to around 100,000 at most.

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The total population of Ahmedabad at the last census was 5.6 million, and that of Gujarat state 63 million. There have been no reports of mass movement into the city ahead of Trump's visit.

The confusion may be down to the common usagRead More – Source

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South Korea is pivoting to try to stop the new coronavirus from spreading locally amid a surge of new cases, many of them linked to a church gathering in the city of Daegu.

South Korea confirmed 100 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total in the country to 204. Authorities also said a second person has died.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told reporters in Seoul that “the government has so far focused on curbing infections coming from outside the country.”

“From now on, the government will further prioritize preventing the virus from spreading locally,” he added, according to Yonhap.

The government would take “strong and swift” action to stem further spread of the new virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Measures include designating the Daegu and Cheongdo areas as special care zones, Chung said.

An urgent focus of government workers is to locate people who were in contact with COVID-19 patients. Officials also want to focus on curing patients.

The World Health Organizations (WHO) list of virus cases classifies the cluster from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked in Yokohama, Japan, as separate from domestic cases in the country. Under the classification, South Korea has the most cases outside of China apart from the cases from the ship.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Medical workers wearing protective gears carry a patient suspected of contracting the new coronavirus toward an ambulance at Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, South Korea on Feb. 21, 2020. (Lee Moo-ryul/Newsis via AP)

WHO officials said theyre concerned about the rising number of cases in South Korea.

“Were working closely with the government to fully understand the transmission dynamics that led to this increase,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva on Friday. The United States warned travelers this week of “apparent community spread” of the new virus in South Korea and other nearby countries.

“Community spread means people have been infected with the virus, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected. At this time, the extent of virus spread is not sustained or widespread enough to meet the criteria for a travel notice,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated.

South Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 20 new cases on Wednesday and 53 cases on Thursday before the surge on Friday.

Eighty-five of the 100 newly reported cases were linked to the Shincheonji church in Daegu. A 61-year-old woman who tested positive on Feb. 18 attended the church before she was diagnosed, officials said. The church, which is usually full of thousands of worshippers, was closed on Friday and surrounded by empty streets, according to Reuters.

The single worker there emerged and threatened to call the police if anyone tried to enter the building. “All of our 9,000 believers are at home,” the man, who declined to give his name, said before placing some “no entry” signs around the premises. The man said staff members cleaned and disinfected the building twice this week.

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A woman wearing a mask to Read More – Source

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OTTAWA—A sixth presumptive case of COVID-19 has been diagnosed in British Columbia after a woman in her 30s returned to the province from Iran, bringing the total number of cases in Canada to nine.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday the latest patients case is relatively mild and a number of her close contacts have already been put in isolation.

Henry said earlier this week that four of the five people already diagnosed with the virus were symptom free.

This latest case comes as a planeload of Canadian evacuees who have spent weeks confined to cabins aboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Japan were expected to begin two weeks of isolation in Cornwall, Ont., Friday, unless Canadas top health official deems them healthy enough to be released.

And Canadian authorities are looking closely at their experience on the Diamond Princess cruise ship as the country prepares for an upcoming tourist season with concerns about the novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, still very much up in the air.

Initially the government said the evacuees from Japan would have to spend 14 days in isolation because that is considered the typical incubation period for the virus.

But because all the passengers have been tested for the virus by Japanese authorities, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Thursday there is a chance that they will be released early from quarantine if they show no symptoms upon their return to Canada, under the discretion of Canadas top public-health doctor.

Those who were cleared to travel are to be screened again at Canadian Forces Base Trenton before they are placed in isolation at the Nav Centre in eastern Ontario.

Each passenger was given a government-issued facemask and coloured wristband before they were ushered off the ship in Yokohama to nearby Tokyos Haneda Airport, according to a letter from government officials to the evacuees on board the ship.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canadas chief public-health officer, has already released flight crew and medical personnel who escorted Canadians home from Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 was first detected, but so far all the evacuees themselves have had to serve the full quarantine period.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship has seen the largest outbreak of the virus outside China, with 634 passengers having tested positive at last count.

Hajdu said Canada will be keeping its eye on Japans examination of how the virus was handled aboard the ship, especially as it relates to Canadas own upcoming tourist season. Measures aboard the ship seemed to do little to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

Canada has numerous cruise terminals, from relatively big cities such as Vancouver and Montreal to smaller ports such as Prince Rupert, B.C., and Baie Comeau, Que.

“There has been obviously concern about the practices on board the ship that have potentially led to the increased spread of the coronavirus on the ship,” Hajdu said, adding that she also has empathy for Japanese officials who had to handle the quarantine of more than 3,000 people docked off a major city.

The evacuation came just after Japanese officials broke the news that two passengers from the ship died after contracting the virus.

The two people who died, a man and a Read More – Source

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte brushed off the possibility of forming a military alliance with China, just over a week after he announced the termination of a 2-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States (VFA), his spokesperson said on Feb. 21.

Duterte decided to pull the plug on the troop rotation pact with the United States on Feb. 11, to enable the Philippines to be more independent in its relations with other countries, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

When asked if the president would consider seeking a defense treaty with Beijing, Panelo said Duterte is not interested in forging military pacts with other nations.

“No,” the spokesman said, reported ABS-CBN News. He previously said Duterte would not “entertain” any initiative from the U.S. government to salvage the VFA.

“Neither will he accept any official invitation to visit the United States,” Panelo said last week.

The VFA is important to the overall U.S.-Philippines alliance and sets out rules for U.S. soldiers to operate in the Philippines, a former U.S. territory. It underpins what Washington has called an “ironclad” relationship despite Dutertes complaints about U.S. hypocrisy, ill-treatment, and aging weapons.

Duterte says the United States uses the pacts to conduct clandestine activities like spying and nuclear weapons stockpiling, which he says risk making the Philippines a target for Chinese aggression.

The decision to terminate the agreement was sparked by the revocation of a U.S. visa held by Ronald dela Rosa, a former police chief who led Dutertes bloody war on drugs. Panelo said the cancellation of dela Rosas visa was “the last straw that broke the camels back.”

Panelo also said Dutertes decision was a consequence of U.S. legislative and executive actions that “bordered on assaulting our sovereignty anRead More – Source

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South Korea has stepped up measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, as confirmed infections rose sharply for a second day.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun described the development as an "emergency" situation.

The two southern cities of Daegu and Cheongdo have been declared "special care zones".

The country has also locked down its military after several soldiers tested positive.

On Friday, South Korea reported 52 new confirmations after a rise of 53 on Thursday.

The country now has a total of 156 cases making it the largest cluster outside mainland China and the cruise ship docked off Japan.

From the 52 new cases reported on Friday, 41 are in Daegu, a city 300km southeast of the capital Seoul, and 39 of those are from a cluster involving a religious sect.

Authorities confirmed the country's first death from the virus on Thursday, in the neighbouring city Cheongdo.

The man was was a long term patient at a mental health facility, where alongside him another 14 patients have also tested positive.

Officially named Sars-CoV-2, the new virus is thought to have originated in Hubei province in China. It causes pneumonia-like symptoms.

What measures are being taken?

Both Daegu and Cheongdo cities have been designated "special care zones" and the government promised swift measures to prevent further spread of the virus.

"It is urgent to find people who have contacted infected people and cure patients," Prime Minister Chung said according to news agency Yonhap.

He said the government was readying resources like sickbeds, medical equipment and health workers and warned the virus was now spreading locally.

"The government has so far focused on curbing infections coming from outside the country. From now on, the government will further prioritise preventing the virus from spreading locally."

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said authorities would allow hospitals to isolate respiratory patients from others in an effort to prevent any spread within medical institutions.

He also said that all pneumonia patients in Daegu hospitals would be checked for the virus.

South Korea's defence ministry has ordered a lock down for all personnel and cancelled all leave after several soldiers tested positive for the new virus.

What happened in Daegu?

The city's biggest cluster appears to be at a branch of a religious sect which calls itself the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

South Korean health officials believe these infections are linked to a 61-year-old woman who tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

The Shincheonji, which has been accused of being a cult, said it had now shut down its Daegu branch and that services in other regions would be held online or individually at home.

Daegu is the country's fourth-largest city and its streets are now largely abandoned as the 2.5 million residents are asked to remain at home after authorities have described the church cluster as "super-spreading event".

As of Friday, more than 400 members of the church are showing sRead More – Source