South Korean officials put the country on “red alert” (literally) Sunday following another 169 confirmed coronavirus infections.
That brings the total to more than 600, a 20-fold increase in the space of just five days.
The new alert level gives the government the authority to rush new aid to Daegu, the epicenter, and a designated “special care zone”. The government can now force citizens to cancel public activities and may also shutter schools, although it’s not yet clear what steps will ultimately be taken.
Read more about the situation in South Korea
As Yonhap notes, “it’s the first time the country… has raised the virus alert level to the highest in the four-tier system in 11 years since its previous step against Influenza A (H1N1)”.
“Closing facilities related to Shincheonji and limiting its members’ activities nationwide are unavoidable measures to protect public health and safety [and we are] not seeking to restrict religious freedom”, Moon Jae-in said, referencing the religious sect to which the country’s outbreak was traced.
“Although the situation is grave, we can overcome it”, Moon went on to remark, in a perfunctory show of defiance against a biological threat which, by virtue of not being sentient, does not understand expressions of human resolve. “The government has adequate ability and confidence to control and manage the spread of the infectious disease. Trust and cooperation are the way to win the fight against the virus”.
Meanwhile, Italy said cases in the Lombardy region nearly doubled overnight to 89 from 54, pushing the total for the country above 100.
The head of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, canceled the last two days of the Venice Carnival, citing the outbreak. “As of this evening there will be a ban on the Venice Carnival as well as on all events, sporting as well, until March 1 inclusive”, he declared.
Earlier in the day, Zaia announced Venice’s first two cases of coronavirus. Despite a near total lockdown in the north, the infection continues to proliferate, although that might not be a fair assessment – after all, many of those falling ill could have already been infected prior to the imposition of the measures which, as of Saturday evening, include a travel ban and a variety of other emergency protocols.
In what may later prove to be a mistake, Italy isn’t seeking to suspend Schengen. Travel in Europe is, of course, borderless, and France is now preparing to see its cases jump. Health Minister Olivier Veran called the prospect of additional infections in the country “very likely” in light of the Italian situation.
In Iran, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the rise in infections (which now total 43) likely originated in Qom, a Shia holy city.
“The virus came from China to Qom city. A merchant from Qom who died of the virus used to regularly travel to China”, Namaki said, adding that although flights between Iran and China were suspended, this person “used indirect flights”. “Obviously we do not recommend trips to Qom”, Namaki dryly remarked, on state television.
Schools in the city are closed and religious ceremonies canceled.
In Israel, authorities said they may quarantine around 200 South Korean visitors at a military base south of Jerusalem.
To be sure, financial markets aren’t likely to be enamored with how this situation developed over the weekend. As documented extensively in the linked post above, these kinds of lockdowns and curtailments of public activities threaten to choke off the services sector across multiple economies.
Throughout 2019’s mini-industrial recession, services activity generally remained buoyant. That resiliency is now in serious jeopardy.
Also in Italy, Milan canceled public activities, a move Bloomberg notes “will likely affect the final days of the city’s renowned Fashion Week”.
On Sunday, Xi was quoted as saying that although China’s (draconian) measures to stop the spread have been effective, the battle is “still at a crucial stage”.