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Brazil, others confirm first COVID-19 infections as deaths decline in China

By Darryl Coote & Brian Dunleavy
Brazil, others confirm first COVID-19 infections as deaths decline in China
A security guard checks the temperature of people visiting a popular shopping mall due to the threat of the deadly COVID-19 spreading in Beijing on Monday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- As a deadly coronavirus appears to be stabilizing in China, where it has killed thousands this winter, Brazil and other countries across the globe are scrambling to contain COVID-19's spread with several confirming their first infections.

The first case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in South America as officials in Brazil on Wednesday announced that a man had been diagnosed with the virus in Sao Paulo -- meaning the deadly infection has now reached every continent except for Antarctica.

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No further details about the patient have been released, but he may have been among a group of Brazilian nationals flown back from Wuhan on a repatriation flight earlier this month.

During a press briefing Wednesday morning in Rome, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that, as of Tuesday, "the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time."

Sudden increases of new cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea are "deeply concerning," he added while reporting that there are new cases of COVID-19 linked to Iran in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman. There are also new cases of the virus linked to Italy in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, Ghebreyesus said.

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Chinese health officials Thursday announced the death toll climbed to 2,744 for mainland China after it recorded 29 deaths over the previous day -- the fewest number of deaths in a 24-hour period since Jan. 28 when 26 people died and the death toll stood at fewer than 150.

China's National Health Commission announced the new figures in its daily update, stating there were 433 new confirmed cases of the disease over the day prior with 409 of them located in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.

However, as the disease seems to be coming under control in China, countries around the world are dealing with worsening conditions as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to prepare for a pandemic.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters during a Tuesday press conference that COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in multiple countries and within regions without a known exposure to Wuhan, the Hubei city where the disease is believed to have emerged, meeting two of the three criteria for a pandemic.

"The world appears to be moving close to the third criteria -- worldwide spread," she said.

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Ghebreyesus urged caution against declaring a pandemic, calls for which have increased as the number of cases outside China has risen, saying the decision requires "a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts."

"WHO has already declared a public health emergency of international concern -- our highest level of alarm," Ghebreyesus said. "Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems. It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true. We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things."

Concerns about COVID-19 reaching a pandemic level of spread come as Switzerland, Croatia and Austria confirmed their first infections of the disease, a day after Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman announced their own cases.

Switzerland, Croatia and Austria all said their infections were in people with connections to Italy, which has grown in recent days to be one of the worst hit by the disease as it has recorded 374 confirmed cases and 12 deaths.

Switzerland's Federal Office of Public Health said in a statement the infected patient was hospitalized in "good health" and had visited Italy's Milan 10 days ago.

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Milan is located in Lombardy, where Italy has recorded 240 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths, according to the southern European country's Ministry of Health.

Switzerland said the risk of infection to its population remains "moderate," adding that "there is a probability that further cases of infection are diagnosed." Those who have been in close contact with its first confirmed case have been quarantined.

Croatia's Health Minister VIli Beros confirmed the country's first case Tuesday afternoon -- a man who had also been in Milan between Feb. 19-21. The minister said he is showing "milder signs" of the disease, according to a government of Croatia statement.

"This is a disease whose clinical characteristics are similar to influenza and we don't expect a major spread or complications from similar influenza infections," Beros said.

However, nine other Croatians who work at a factory in northern Italy where several people were confirmed infected with the disease were admitted to a hospital in the port city of Rijeka and are undergoing testing, the statement read.

In South Korea, the number of confirmed cases continued to skyrocket with 115 new infections diagnosed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., increasing its total to 1,261, according to Seoul's CDC. It also reported a death during that timeframe, edging its total death toll to 12.

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Among those infected is a 23-year-old man in the U.S. military serving in South Korea, the first U.S. service member to have tested positive for the virus, U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement.

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