Suspicion as virus deaths skyrocket
THERE are claims that at least 210 people in Iran have died as a result of the new coronavirus disease.
BBC Persian reported the figures on Friday, citing unnamed sources in the Islamic republic's health system and prompting an angry denial from a health ministry spokesman.
According to the London-based global news network's Persian service said, most of the people died in the capital Tehran and the holy city of Qom in central Iran, where the country's first case was reported.
Iranian officials have flatly refuted the new figures, despite Iran's deputy health minister downplaying the coronavirus crisis just hours before testing positive for the virus.
Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur accused BBC Persian of joining the Islamic republic's regional enemies in a "race to spread lies" about Iran.
"Iran's exemplary transparency in publishing information on the coronavirus has stunned many people," Jahanpur tweeted.
BBC Persian's figure is six times higher than the official death toll of 34 given by the health ministry earlier on Friday.
Even at 34, Iran has had the highest death rate from the outbreak outside China.
The latest statistics are concerning, as they contradict all that's currently known about the virus so far.
If the BBC Persian figure of 210 deaths is accurate - with the total number of reported cases in Iran currently at 388 - these most recent figures would push the disease's mortality rate to a shocking 54.12 per cent in Iran alone.
Alternatively, if China's data on the virus is to be believed and the mortality rate is indeed 2.3 per cent, Iran's unusually high death rate could also suggest a huge number of cases remain unreported in the country. The number of cases should be closer to 9,130 cases rather than the 388 currently being reported by Iranian government officials.
Discrepancies between media and government reports on the scale of the coronavirus outbreak have existed in China for months, with some questioning the reliability of China's reporting.
Now, Iran finds itself in the same firing line.
"My sense is that Iranian officials tend to default to telling people what they think is politically beneficial. In other words, they tend to lie a lot," Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said today.
Citing Iran's delay in taking responsibility for the Ukrainian plane incident, Ibish predicts Iran "will probably continue to try to deceive the public" as the coronavirus crisis continues to build.
On a global scale, the virus has infected more than 83,000 people - the vast majority of them in mainland China.
The disease was initially thought to have a fatality rate of less than 2 per cent - based on data from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC).
The report by the CCDC was published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology and looked at more than 44,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China as of 11 February.
Data from that report shows the province's death rate is 2.9 per cent compared with 0.4 per cent in the rest of the country.
The findings put the overall death rate of the COVID-19 virus at 2.3 per cent worldwide.
GLOBAL VIRUS RISK ESCALATED
The World Health Organisation on Friday raised its global risk assessment of the new coronavirus to its highest level after the epidemic spread to sub-Saharan Africa and financial markets slumped.
The virus has proliferated around the globe over the past week, emerging on every continent except Antarctica, prompting many governments and businesses to try to stop people from travelling or gathering in crowded places.
Six new countries have recorded cases: Mexico, Nigeria, Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Lithuania.
Its rapid spread to new zones that has authorities concerned - in the past 24 hours, it has affected nine new countries, from Azerbaijan to Mexico to New Zealand.
"We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
"We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities. As long as that's the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus."
The first coronavirus case in Australia with no links to China was confirmed today, marking a new development in the spread of the deadly disease.
A 63-year-old woman is in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. She had recently returned from Iran.
A 79-year-old woman from West Australia was also today confirmed as having the disease after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
VIRAL OUTBREAKS WORLDWIDE
Italy remains the hardest-hit country in Europe. On Friday, authorities said that the number of cases rose to 888 from 650 the day before. Of those, 21 people have died, an increase of four, and 46 have recovered.
Most of the victims who have died were elderly, many over the age of 80. Some of them had underlying health conditions including cancer.
Italy has seen a huge surge in the number of cases since last Friday, when only three were reported.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged people "not to give in to panic and follow the advice of health authorities".
The number of cases in Korea has climbed from 104 on February 20 to more than 2300 on Friday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.
The outbreak has already begun to affect life and business in Korea. Korean Air, the country's flagship airline, is conducting temperature checks for passengers. Hyundai Motor shut down a plant in the country after one of its employees tested positive for the virus. The hit K-pop band BTS cancelled four concerts in Seoul.
People are so fearful of contracting the virus that mobile apps that help track the disease in South Korea are now ranked as six of the top 15 downloads on the country's Google Play app store (as of Thursday).
In Japan, five million people were told to stay at home over the weekend after the governor of Hokkaido, the northern island, declared a state of emergency. There are more than 200 cases in Japan, a third of them in Hokkaido, two involving children under 10.
Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced that they were closing indefinitely.
A revolt was brewing against a government request for all schools to close for at least a month from Monday. The city of Kyoto said that it would not follow the request, citing the difficulties it would cause working parents.
In the United States, California health officials on Friday confirmed a second case of novel coronavirus which are suspected to have stemmed fro community trasnmission.
San Jose health officials confirmed the latest patient - an older woman with chronic health conditions - does not have a travel history or any known contact with a traveler or infected person.
It comes a day after state officials said a woman hospitalised in Sacramento had contracted the illness after no known contact.
Earlier US cases included 14 people who returned from outbreak areas in China or had been in contact with a recent traveller, three people who were evacuated from Wuhan, and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Lebanon announced Friday it would bar entry to non-resident foreigners from the four countries most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, a day after announcing its third case.
The Middle Eastern country will deny entry to people arriving from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, the state news agency reported, without saying when the measure would come into effect.
Education Minister Tarek Majzoub on Friday ordered the closure of all schools, universities and other educational institutions in the country until March 8.
Three individuals in Lebanon have been confirmed as infected. All three - two Lebanese and an Iranian - arrived recently from Iran.
In Germany, more than 1000 people were in quarantine in the country's most populous state on Friday. The district of Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia said it had to take the step of keeping around 1000 on their homes as an infected couple had participated in carnival celebrations in mid-February.
Britain reported its first confirmed coronavirus case on January 31 but there had been no deaths in the country at that point in time.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said slowing the spread of the coronavirus is now his government's top priority, after news broke of the first Briton dying of the disease.
The number of people infected in Britain currently stands at 20.