World News

Virus crisis spreads in Iran, ebbs in China; G7 vows resolve

Ambulances are parked to transport patients with mild symptoms of the coronavirus in Daegu, South Korea, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. China’s coronavirus caseload continued to wane Tuesday even as the epidemic took a firmer hold beyond Asia. (Lee Moo-ryul/Newsisvia AP)

BEIJING — The coronavirus spread deep into Iran’s government, South Korea ramped up its fight against the epidemic by starting drive-thru testing, and seven major economies tried to shore up global confidence Tuesday with a pledge to use “all appropriate tools” to counter the economic fallout.

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Mushrooming outbreaks in the Mideast, Europe and South Korea contrasted with optimism in China, where thousands of recovered patients were going home. Virus clusters in the United States led schools and subways to sanitize, quickened the search for a vaccine and spread fears of vulnerability among nursing home residents.

“We are in uncharted territory,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Iran’s supreme leader ordered the military to assist health officials in fighting the virus, which authorities say has killed 77 people — the deadliest outbreak outside China.

Among the dead in Iran are a confidant of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican and a recently elected member of parliament. The sick include 23 members of parliament and the head of the country’s emergency services, state media reported.

Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, said some people are stockpiling medical supplies for profit and urged prosecutors to show no mercy.

“Hoarding sanitizing items is playing with people’s lives, and it is not ignorable,” he said.

France’s finance minister ordered an investigation into possible price spikes for sanitizer and masks and warned that binge-shopping for household essentials could trigger shortages.

South Korea saw its largest daily increase in new cases Tuesday, with 851 more infections reported, largely in and around the southeastern city of Daegu. In all, 5,186 in South Korea have tested positive for the virus.

In the capital of Seoul, drive-thru virus testing centers began operating, with workers dressed head-to-toe in white protective suits leaning into cars with mouth swabs, a move meant to limit contact with possible carriers of the illness. Troops were also dispatched across the city to spray streets and alleys with disinfectant.

Stock markets shed some of their gains after the Group of Seven countries held off announcing specific new measures to help the global economy cope with the disruptions.

Many traders had been hoping for a broad package of economic support. Instead, the G-7 finance ministers and central bankers reaffirmed their commitment to use “all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable growth and safeguard against downside risks.”

“The fear factor is still very high,” said Kirk Hartman, president of Wells Fargo Asset Management.

Worldwide, more than 90,000 people have been sickened and 3,100 have died. The number of countries hit by the virus has reached at least 70, with Ukraine and Morocco reporting their first cases.

In China, the count of new cases dropped again Tuesday, with just 125 reported. It is still by far the hardest-hit country, with over 80,000 infections and about 95% of the world’s deaths.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations said the country is winning its battle against COVID-19.

“We are not far from the coming of the victory,” Zhang Jun said.

In Italy, the count of infected people climbed to 2,036 with 52 dead, and officials said it could take up to two weeks to know whether measures including quarantines in 11 northern towns are working.

The U.S. count of COVID-19 cases surpassed 100, spread across at least 11 states. There have been six deaths, all in Washington state.

On Capitol Hill, aides said negotiations are nearing completion on an emergency bill to fund the development of a vaccine and offer disaster loans to businesses hurt by the crisis.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a leading public health official in the U.S., urged calm: “Caution, preparedness, but not panic.”

In Japan, questions continued to build about how the virus might affect the Olympics.

The country’s Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said the country is “making the utmost effort” to proceed with the games’ planned opening on July 24 in Tokyo. But she told parliament that the country’s contract with the International Olympic Committee only specifies that the games be held in 2020, meaning they could be postponed to later in the year if necessary.

AP

March 3, 2020

Hinnant reported in Paris. Contributors include Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Chris Grygiel in Seattle; Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Stephen Wade in Tokyo; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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