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COVID-19 cases hit 95,000; outbreak slows in China

By Darryl Coote & Brian Dunleavy
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COVID-19 cases hit 95,000; outbreak slows in China
Shelves are empty in a grocery store Thursday in Beijing as panic buying starts to hit certain areas due to the threat of spreading coronavirus. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 5 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization reported 95,265 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide Thursday, with 3,281 deaths and a shrinking number of cases in China that indicate the outbreak is coming under control.

Over the past day, 2,055 new cases were reported in 33 countries, about 80 percent of which are in Iran, Italy and South Korea, WHO officials said in a news briefing.

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China's Health Commission early Thursday reported deaths there have reached 3,012. WHO said the nation had reported 143 new cases to the agency in the last 24 hours. Most of the new cases are in Hubei province, where the outbreak began.

Eight provinces in China have not reported new cases in 14 days, and 20 of the country's 31 provinces have downgraded their public health warnings linked to COVID-19.

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Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies program, said those numbers indicate the outbreak -- which began in December in Wuhan, China -- is coming under control.

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Besides China's 80,409 coronavirus patients -- more than 52,000 of whom have been cured and discharged from hospitals -- there are more than 15,000 cases and more than 200 deaths in nearly 80 countries outside China.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to take a "whole government" approach to containing the outbreak, saying that too many have tasked their health ministries with response management. The best approach, he said, is to have multiple agencies, including military and security, engaged with the head of state coordinating response.

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All governments, including those that have not reported cases of the novel coronavirus, should increase testing capacity and get their hospitals ready.

"This is not a drill," Ghebreyesus said. "The solution is aggressive response. This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor. Even the high-income countries should expect surprises."

As the statistics stabilize in China, epidemics in other countries are growing, with three main clusters in South Korea, Italy and Iran accounting for more than 10,000 cases.

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South Korea on Friday morning added 518 infections from the prior day for a total of 6,284 confirmed cases. It also reported seven more deaths for a tally of 42.

Italy's death toll rose to 148 deaths after 41 people infected with the virus died in the past 24 hours, its health ministry reported Thursday evening, making its epidemic the most deadly outside China. It also surpassed 3,000 infections with 3,296 patients, mostly in northern Italy.

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Europe's largest epidemic has prompted Italian education officials to close all schools and universities and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to sign a special decree Wednesday night that prohibits spectators from attending all sporting events for at least a month.

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Conte posted a 5-minute video to Facebook detailing the measures.

"We are facing the coronavirus," he wrote in a caption that accompanied the video. "A challenge that has no political color, which must bring together the entire nation. It is a challenge that must be overcome with the commitment of all."

Along with Italy, the outbreak continued to grow throughout Europe, which was reporting nearly 6,000 cases of the virus and more than 160 deaths, according to a running tally compiled by Johns Hopkins from government and health sources.

In Germany, the number of confirmed cases rose by 145 on Friday from the day prior to 545, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins.

France saw its cases jump by 92 infections from Wednesday to 377, according to its Ministry of Health. It also recorded two new deaths in the previous 24 hours raising its death toll to six.

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And the Netherlands said it now had 82 patients with the disease after confirming 44 new cases. Its Ministry of Health Welfare and Sport said 69 of its patients were infected abroad.

Spain on Thursday reported 37 new cases for a total of 237, according to an update from its Ministry of Health.

Britain also experienced its first death to COVID-19 on Thursday.

The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust reported an older patient with underlying health issues died from the virus. The country's cases also rose by more than 30 in the past 24 hours to 105 with London reporting a quarter of them as the cases are dispersed throughout the nation.

The surge has Britain forecasting the outbreak is going to deepen before it is brought under control.

"We will continue to try to contain this," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. "However, it's now highly likely that the virus is going to spread in a significant way."

Switzerland on Thursday also confirmed its first death -- a 74-year-old woman from Vaud. Its health ministry said it had 87 confirmed cases in 17 of its 26 federal states.

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"All people are isolated," the ministry said. "The health authorities have informed people who made close contact with them."

In response, Switzerland has banned events of more than 1,000 people until at least March 15 while federal states will individually decide whether to allow events hosting fewer people to continue.

Iran on Thursday reported 3,513 infections and 107 deaths.

In Hong Kong, which has 105 confirmed cases, officials said they successfully completed a two-day operation to repatriate nearly 500 residents who were living in China's Hubei province where its capital Wuhan has been under lockdown for over a month.

On four chartered flights over Wednesday and Thursday, 469 people were evacuated to Hong Kong where they will undergo a two-week quarantine at Chun Yeung Estate, officials said.

The operation began Wednesday with 225 Hong Kong residents flown back to the semi-autonomous region from Wuhan.

Patrick Nip, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs who was facilitating the evacuation flights, said Thursday that 258 people were originally expected to return Wednesday but nine people said they decided not to take the evacuation flight, three passengers recorded elevated temperatures, which barred them from boarding, and a pregnant woman said she would return on the next plane.

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The Hong Kong government said in a statement late Wednesday that 200 of the passengers were stranded in Wuhan, including two students, with the other 44 having been located throughout Hubei province requiring urgent need. Thirteen were pregnant and 10 were suffering from serious illness, it said.

News of the evacuations follows the Hong Kong government announcing Wednesday it may have discovered a human-to-animal transmission of the virus after diagnosing low levels of COVID-19 in a dog after repeated testing.

In a statement, the Hong Kong government said the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department conducted the tests over four days, returning "weak positive for the virus" each time.

The dog is under quarantine and has yet to show signs of the disease, the government said without stating how the dog was infected.

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