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Countries take harsh containment steps as new virus spreads

With the number of sick and dead rising, the crisis gave way to political and diplomatic rows and a sense that no part of the world was immune.

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia cut travel to Islam’s holiest sites, South Korea toughened penalties for those breaking quarantines and airports across Latin America looked for signs of sick passengers as a new virus troubled places around the globe.

With the number of sick and dead rising, the crisis gave way to political and diplomatic rows and a sense that no part of the world was immune.

The global count of those sickened by the virus exceeds 82,000, with China still by far the hardest-hit. Its daily increases, however, are continuing a downward trend.

As of Friday morning, China reported 327 new cases and 44 deaths from the new COVID-19 illness.

The National Health Commission's updated figures bring mainland China's total number of cases to 78,824 and deaths to 2,788. More than 3,600 infections with the new type of coronavirus have been reported in other places as the epidemic spreads to dozens of countries.

In recent days, the number of new cases outside China has eclipsed the number confirmed inside the country. Of the newly reported figures, 313 cases and 28 new deaths were in Wuhan, the city worst hit by the epidemic.  

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Health officials said on Wednesday a new coronavirus case in California could be the first in the U.S. that has no known connection to travel abroad or another known case, a possible sign the virus is spreading in a community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the case Wednesday night.

California officials said the person is a resident of Solano County and is getting medical care in Sacramento County. An email from UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento said the patient arrived last week but the CDC waited four days before testing for the virus.

"Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected," the CDC said in a statement.

The new case in the United States came the same day President Donald Trump announced he was putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. response to the virus.

Trump said at a press conference that the U.S. is “very, very ready” for whatever the new coronavirus threat brings, even as health authorities warn Americans that more infections are coming.

The president has been pushing back against criticism that his administration isn't doing enough to meet the coronavirus threat. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are calling for much more money than the $2.5 billion the White House has requested. 

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The World Health Organization on Wednesday reported that the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time. 

Here is a look at the latest information from the virus' spread around the world: 

Japan cancels school through March

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he asked all elementary, middle and high schools to remain closed until spring holidays begin in late March in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. 

The measure comes amid growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases in northern Japan and elsewhere.

Japan now has more than 890 cases, including 705 from a quarantined cruise ship

Iran vice president has virus

A state-owned newspaper in Iran says Masoumeh Ebtekar, a vice president in the Islamic Republic and a spokeswoman for the 1979 hostage-takers, has the new coronavirus. 

The report Thursday came from the English-language IRAN daily newspaper via its Twitter account. 

Ebtekar was known during the hostage crisis as “Mary.” The report comes as other top officials in Iran’s Shiite theocracy have caught the virus.

Virus reaches Latin America, first case in Brazil

Latin America saw its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus spreading worldwide when Brazil's government announced that a 61-year-old man who traveled to Italy this month had the virus. 

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that the Brazilian man had spent two weeks in northern Italy's Lombardy region on a work trip, where he contracted the contagious virus.

Hardest-hit China, South Korea count 938 new virus cases

South Korea reported 505 more cases Thursday, bringing its total to 1,766. Most were in the country's fourth-biggest city, Daegu, where the outbreak has hit hardest. But there are signs the virus is spreading with dozens of cases in Seoul and Busan.

China reported 433 new cases along with 29 additional deaths. Thursday’s updates bring mainland China’s totals to 78,497 cases, and 2,744 deaths.

South Korea, US postpone annual military drills

The South Korean and U.S. militaries postponed their annual joint drills out of concerns over the outbreak that has infected soldiers in both countries' armed forces, put many troops in quarantine and closed base facilities. 

Twenty South Korean soldiers and one American service member in South Korea have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

South Korea has already suspended some unilateral field training, placed 9,570 troops under quarantine and banned most of its enlisted soldiers from leaving their bases. The U.S. military closed some amenities at several bases and was urging its personnel to avoid handshakes and large gatherings if possible. 

Italy seeks to calm fears in Europe as cases, deaths rise

Italy is seeking international support for its virus containment efforts as its caseload grew to 447 and people linked to Italy got sick elsewhere in Europe and the world.

Italy's health minister held a crisis meeting with European Union and World Health Organization representatives in Rome. Twelve people have died in Italy since two case clusters emerged in the country's north. Greece, North Macedonia and Romania reported their first virus cases Wednesday, all linked to Italy's afflicted regions.

New cases in France and Germany raised concern about additional clusters possibly forming in Europe. Germany's health minister said he had asked state health officials to review their emergency plans for pandemics. 

Saudi Arabia halts travel to Islam's holiest site

Saudi Arabia has halted travel to Islam's holiest sites over fears over the outbreak months ahead of the hajj pilgrimage. The extraordinary decision stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina.

The decision showed the worry about the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia, whose oil-rich monarchy stakes its legitimacy on protecting Islam's holy sites. 

Meanwhile, experts are concerned Iran may be underreporting cases and deaths, given the illness' rapid spread from the Islamic Republic across the Persian Gulf. Iran announced Thursday 22 deaths among 144 confirmed cases of the virus.

Whistleblower: Feds helping evacuees lacked virus protection

A government whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that federal workers did not have the necessary protective gear or training when they were deployed to help victims of the coronavirus evacuated from China.

The complaint deals with Health and Human Services Department employees sent to Travis and March Air Force bases in California to assist evacuees from China. The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates personnel issues, confirmed Thursday it has received the complaint and is investigating.

Dominican Republic turns back cruise ship amid virus fears

Officials in the Dominican Republic have turned away a cruise ship that was heading there to disembark hundreds of passengers following a 14-day tour.

Officials say that eight of those aboard the Braemar showed potential symptoms of the COVID-19 illness caused by the coronavirus, and say they include four Filipinos, two British citizens and two U.S. citizens.

But Fred Olsen Cruise Lines says the symptoms aren't consistent with the new coronavirus. It describes them as ïnfluenza-like cases."

The company says it's consulting with local officials on what to do. The ship had been scheduled to pick up a new load of passengers on Thursday.


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