Italy's death toll from the novel coronavirus rose by 36 to 233 on Saturday while the number of infections shot up by a single-day record of 1,247 to hit 5,883.

Tourists wearing protective masks looks on at Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) in Rome on March 7, 2020 amid fear of Covid-19 epidemic.
Tourists wearing protective masks looks on at Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) in Rome on March 7, 2020 amid fear of Covid-19 epidemic. (AFP)

Italy prepared Saturday to quarantine more than 10 million people around the financial capital Milan and the tourist mecca Venice for nearly a month to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.

A draft government decree published by Italy's Corriere Della Sera newspaper and other media said movement into and out of the regions would be severely restricted until April 3.

It was not clear from either the decree or the reports as to when the measure would go into effect.

Corriere Della Sera said it was "imminent" – and that those who violated the measures could be jailed.

The Italian government has found itself at the forefront of the global fight against an epidemic that has convulsed the markets and paralysed global supply chains since first emerging in China late last year.

The Mediterranean country of 60 million people has recorded 233 deaths and 5,883 infections in the past two 7weeks.

The virus has now spread to all 22 Italian regions and the first deaths are being recorded in Italy's less well medically equipped south.

The World Health Organization (WHO) urged Italy on Friday to keep "a strong focus on containment measures".

Milan is Italy's financial capital and has a population of just under 1.4 million people.

The entire Lombardy region is home to 10 million and is one of Italy's richest.

The government decree also covers parts of the Veneto region around Venice as well as Emilia-Romagna's Parma and Rimini.

Those three cities have a combined population of around 540,000 people.

The month-long ban on entry to places such as Venice could deliver a crippling blow to the city's already-struggling tourism industry.

South Korea reports 93 new coronavirus cases

South Korea on Sunday reported 93 new coronavirus cases from late Saturday, for a total of 7,134 in the country, Yonhap news agency reported, citing health officials.

 The increase in cases was lower than the same period a day before, though health officials have warned that numbers could fluctuate as more tests are processed.

China reports 27 new virus deaths

Health authorities in mainland China on Sunday reported 44 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 by the end of March 7, a decrease from 99 the day prior.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in China to 80,695 by the end of March 7. 

Authorities reported 27 new deaths on March 7, down from 28 deaths on March 6.

All the new deaths occurred in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. The total number of deaths hit 3,097.

Only three cases, all imported from abroad, were reported outside of Hubei, in Beijing and the northwest province of Gansu.

First coronavirus death in Latin America

A 64-year-old patient died in Argentina as a result of the new coronavirus, the first such death in Latin America, health authorities announced Saturday.

The Ministry of Health said the person lived in Buenos Aires and had been confirmed with COVID-19. 

The patient, who suffered kidney failure, already had diabetes, hypertension and bronchitis before being infected with the virus, a statement 

Third coronavirus-related death in Australia

A man in his 80s died in a Sydney hospital after testing positive to COVID-19, becoming the third coronavirus-related casualty in Australia, state health authorities said on Sunday.

The total number of coronavirus cases has topped 70 in Australia with state and federal health authorities fretting over the risk of more widespread community transmission.

New South Wales Health said in a statement, it was "continuing to find and respond to cases as they are diagnosed to slow any spread of COVID-19 in the community."

US Marine in Washington-area contracts coronavirus

A US Marine in the Washington DC-area who recently returned from travel overseas has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Pentagon said on Saturday, in what would be the third confirmed case of a US servicemember contracting the virus.

The other two US troops are in Italy and South Korea.

"A US Marine assigned to Fort Belvoir, VA, tested positive today for COVID-19 and is currently being treated at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement posted on Twitter.

"The Marine recently returned from overseas where he was on official business. 

Iran coronavirus death toll jumps to 145

Iran's official death toll from the new coronavirus rose by 21 on Saturday, with a lawmaker among the latest fatalities, while the government accused Washington of hampering Tehran's response to the virus.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said that the 21 deaths took the country's total death toll to 145, while 1,076 additional cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 5,823.

"More than 16,000 people are currently hospitalised as suspect cases," Jahanpour said during a televised news conference.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later said American sanctions — reimposed from 2018, after Washington pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal — were undermining Iran's battle against coronavirus.

US President Donald Trump "is maliciously tightening US' illegal sanctions with the aim of draining Iran's resources needed in the fight against #COVID-19 — while our citizens are dying from it," Zarif tweeted on Saturday.

"The world can no longer be silent as US #EconomicTerrorism is supplanted by its #MedicalTerrorism," he said.

Jahanpour said on Saturday that 1,669 people who were sick with the Covid-19 illness have recovered.

UN declines to declare pandemic

As cases of the coronavirus surge in Italy, Iran, South Korea, the US and elsewhere, many scientists say it's plain that the world is in the grips of a pandemic — a serious global outbreak.

The World Health Organization has so far resisted describing the crisis as such, saying the word “pandemic” might spook the world further and lead some countries to lose hope of containing the virus.

“Unless we’re convinced it’s uncontrollable, why (would) we call it a pandemic?” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week.

The UN health agency has previously described a pandemic as a situation in which a new virus is causing “sustained community-level outbreaks” in at least two world regions.

Meanwhile, the number of novel coronavirus cases in the world rose to 104,901, including 3,556 deaths, across 95 countries and territories by 1700 GMT on Saturday, according to a report compiled by AFP from official sources.

Cruise ships taken off course as anti-virus controls widen

The spreading new virus — or fears of it — immobilised cruise ships or left them searching for ports on four continents Saturday.

The ships faced trouble in waters of the United States, Malaysia, Egypt and Malta as those aboard got tested or confined to cabins.

Officials in California were deciding on Saturday where to dock the Grand Princess cruise ship, with 3,500 people aboard, after 21 tested positive for the virus. There is evidence the ship now idling off San Francisco was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of 10 cases during an earlier voyage.

“Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it,” US Vice President Mike Pence said.

President Donald Trump said he would have preferred not to let the passengers disembark onto American soil but would defer to medical experts.

In Egypt, a cruise ship on Egypt's Nile River with over 150 tourists and local crew was in quarantine on Saturday in the southern city of Luxor, and 45 people on board tested positive for the new coronavirus, authorities said.

The statement said the 12 would be transferred to isolation in a hospital on Egypt's north coast. The passengers — who include Americans, French and other nationalities — and the crew remained quarantined on the ship awaiting further test results.

At a news conference in Cairo later Saturday, Health Minister Hala Zayed said 33 others tested positive for the virus. Of the total 45 infected passengers and crew, 19 are foreigners, officials said. Health Minister Zayed did not elaborate on the nationalities of the non-Egyptians.

Also on Saturday, the port of Penang in Malaysia turned away the cruise ship Costa Fortuna with 2,000 aboard because there were 64 passengers from Italy, the centre of Europe's epidemic.

It was the second port to reject the ship after Phuket in Thailand.
Now, it’s heading to Singapore.

And in Malta, which reported its first case of the virus on Saturday, the MSC Opera ship agreed not to enter the Mediterranean country’s port — even though there are no infections confirmed on board.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies