Fears of a global pandemic continue to grow as coronavirus cases spike in several countries, including Italy, South Korea and Iran and the U.S. stock market nosedived early Monday.
A staggering 50 people died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus in the month of February, Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency reported on Monday. The new death toll is significantly higher than the latest number of confirmed cases that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier, which stood at just 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV.
The 50 deaths date back as far as Feb. 13, according to an Iranian official. Iran previously reported its cases and deaths from the virus on Feb. 19.
Authorities are struggling to contain and understand the outbreak in those countries, where infected cases have skyrocketed as they have increased over 2,000 percent in the past couple weeks.
Italy is considered the site of Europe’s first major outbreak and the largest outside of Asia. The number of infected cases jumped to 152, compared to just three 10 days ago.
The country is currently scrambling to disrupt the spread of the virus, which has seen 110 cases in Milan, its financial district and Venice, known as a famous hub for tourists throughout the world. Events and soccer matches were canceled in the country, while some of its movie theatres were reportedly shuttered, including Milan’s legendary La Scala.
“We are worried about the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in Italy,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Stockholm via a video link.
Cases in South Korea increased to 763 on Monday, with 161 more people infected within the last 24 hours. The country had just 28 infected cases on Feb. 14.
President Moon Jae-in called for “unprecedented, powerful” steps on Sunday to fight the virus which is spreading rapidly throughout the country — including the capital Seoul.
“The coming few days will be a critical time for us,” Jae-in said. “The central government, local governments, health officials and medical personnel and the entire people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem.”
He raised the threat level to “red alert,” its highest national threat level for the first time in a decade.
More than 140 of South Korea’s new cases were from Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people. Five of the countries seven deaths occurred at a hospital near the city.
The country has the third-highest infected total behind China and Japan, where most of the countries infected were from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
“In Daegu [South Korea], the number of new cases that are being confirmed by tests is quite large, and if we fail to effectively stem community transmissions in this area, there would be a large possibility (that the illness) spreads nationwide,” South Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said in a briefing.
Gang-lip said health officials will test all of Daegu’s residents that have cold-like symptoms, which could be 28,000 people. Investigators were looking into the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where 129 of the new 161 cases were connected to. A woman in her 60s reported attended a couple of church services before testing positive.
Iran reported its first person infected with the coronavirus on Wednesday. Countries have closed their borders with Iran, taking similar steps most of the world took with China roughly a month ago.
The country is already facing diplomatic and economic isolation from U.S. pressure. The virus could threaten to isolate Iran even further.
Iranian travelers with the virus have also been confirmed in Canada, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates.
Two cases in Israel were also reported from passengers who returned to the country from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain also reported cases of the coronavirus.
China reported 409 new cases of the virus on Monday, increasing its total number of infected to 77,150. 150 new deaths were also recorded in the mainland, bringing the country’s total to 2,592.
In the U.S., the Dow opened more than 900 points down as fears about China’s shuttered factories affecting the global supply chain grew.