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Coronavirus updates: Italian towns locked down as almost 150 people test positive

As Italy experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, here is the latest for Sunday, Feb. 23.
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Virus poses challenges to $45 billion cruise industry

Israeli prime minister holds emergency meeting

• Number of deaths in China surpasses 2,400

• Ten towns in Italy on lockdown as two deaths reported

• South Korea leader calls for 'unprecedented' steps to stop spread

• 43 cases, eight deaths connected to coronavirus in Iran

• Feds' plan to relocate coronavirus patients puts region at risk, California city says

• Japan minister apologizes after woman who left virus-stricken ship tests positive

Virus challenges $45 billion cruise industry

Coronavirus concerns have pushed the $45 billion cruise line industry to cancel trips and reroute ships as it struggles to contain the impact from fearful travelers. But experts say the industry will bounce back after the outbreak is contained.

"Business is soft. People are scared to travel," Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., told investors Thursday. He predicted that the trend would continue "until we see the leveling off of new cases."

Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises all together recently announced that they'd canceled nearly 40 cruises and rerouted over 40 others. Shares are down from 10 percent to 16 percent across the three major cruise lines since January.

Carnival told investors that continuing travel restrictions through May could lead to a 14 percent reduction in share price. Royal Caribbean said additional cancellations could lead to a roughly 12 percent decrease in earnings this year.

Read more here. Leticia Miranda

Israeli prime minister convenes special assessment

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held high-level meetings with senior officials in the Health Ministry's emergency situation room to discuss the coronavirus.

"We are continuing preparations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. We are holding daily assessments," he said at the gathering of government ministers and senior officials. "Today, I will appoint a ministerial team to convene on a daily basis in order to deal with this major challenge."

He added: "We have also issued guidelines to Israelis who are returning to the country, and we demand that these guidelines, which we are releasing to the public, be strictly adhered to."

The police will also be called if anyone is found to be disseminating false reports about COVID-19 in the lead-up to the Israeli elections next month, he said. Lawahez Jabari

Towns in Italy locked down as scores of people test positive

Ten towns in northern Italy, with a population of around 50,000, were locked down Sunday after scores of people tested positive for COVID-19 and two people died from the disease.

Government officials said Sunday that 133 people have tested positive for the respiratory illness in Italy, making it Europe's worst-hit country.

Of those cases, 89 are in the region of Lombardy, 17 are in Veneto, two are in Emilia Romagna, one is in Piemonte and two are in the country's capital, Rome.

A 77-year-old woman who lived in Milan's Lombardy region died Saturday, the ANSA news agency reported. Her death came hours after a 78-year-old man died in the nearby city of Padua in the Veneto region.

Image: Coronavirus precautions in Italy
Residents wearing respiratory masks wait to go into a supermarket in small groups of 40 people in the small Italian town of Casalpusterlengo on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

The government introduced a number of containment measures Saturday in areas affected by the contagion, including a ban on exit and entry into the affected areas.

It also suspended all public events and gatherings and shut down schools, nurseries, museums, restaurants, businesses and public offices.

Anyone who has been in contact with those infected is to remain at home for a quarantine period of 14 days, officials added.

Both the police and, where necessary, the army will enforce the measures, the government said. Those who break the rules risk up to three months in prison.

Meanwhile, three soccer games scheduled to be played Sunday in Lombardy and Veneto, the most affected regions, were suspended.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said Sunday that all schools in the city will remain closed for at least a week.

The rise in cases comes as Milan is holding its annual fashion week. The designer Giorgio Armani banned the public from attending the catwalk scheduled for Sunday and said it would be streamed online, instead.

The last two days of Venice's famed carnival were also canceled.Claudio Lavanga and AP

Number of deaths in China surpasses 2,400

Almost 650 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in mainland China, the country's National Health Commission reported Sunday as the total number of confirmed cases rose to 76,936.

A further 97 new deaths were also recorded, it said. A total of 2,442 people have died in mainland China since the outbreak began.

While the number of cases continues to rise, less than 1,000 have been recorded each day over the last four days.

However, changes have been made in the way the number of infections is counted, making it difficult to draw conclusions. — Yuliya Talmazan and Salina Lee

South Korea leader calls for 'unprecedented' steps to stop coronavirus

South Korea's president put the country on its highest alert for infectious diseases Sunday and said officials should take "unprecedented, powerful" steps to fight a viral outbreak.

Speaking at a government meeting, President Moon Jae-in said that the outbreak had reached "a crucial watershed" and that "the next few days will be a very important critical moment."

Image: Coronavirus precautions in South Korea
Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus at a market in Daegu, South Korea, on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.Lim Hwa-young / AP

His comments came as authorities reported 169 new cases Sunday, raising the total to 602, with five deaths.

The U.S. State Department issued a level 2 travel alert for South Korea on Saturday warning that older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.

It said South Korea was experiencing "sustained community transmission of COVID-19." — AP and Nayeong Kim

Eight deaths connected to coronavirus in Iran, officials say

Eight people have died after contracting the coronavirus, Iranian officials said Sunday, as the number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 43.

Only China has confirmed more deaths from the respiratory illness.

Most of the cases have been in Qom, a Shiite Muslim holy city 75 miles south of the capital, Tehran.

Schools, universities and seminaries in Qom were closed on Sunday and Monday to prevent the spread of the virus.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq have placed travel and immigration curbs on Iran, while Oman urged its residents Sunday to steer clear of countries with high infection rates and said arrivals from those nations would be quarantined. — Reuters

Feds' plan to relocate coronavirus patients puts region at risk, California city says

Leaders in Costa Mesa, California, said Saturday that they were kept in the dark until the last minute about plans by federal health agencies to transfer dozens of coronavirus patients to an empty building in their city in a move they said could put the entire region at risk.

A federal judge granted the Southern California city a restraining order Friday to temporarily halt the relocation of up to 50 patients from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to the Fairview Developmental Center. In its request for the order, the city cited concern that the building is in a densely populated area surrounded by schools, golf courses and homes.

"We are all united in addressing what we think is a public health crisis right here in our community," Mayor Katrina Foley said.

At a news conference Saturday, local elected officials chided the federal government for its lack of transparency about how the site was chosen, how many patients would be transferred and what federal agency made the decision. — Alicia Victoria Lozano

Japan minister apologizes after woman who left virus-stricken ship tests positive

Japan's health minister has apologized after a woman who was allowed to leave a coronavirus-infected cruise ship docked near Tokyo tested positive for COVID-19.

The woman in her 60s disembarked the Diamond Princess in Yokohama on Wednesday after a two-week quarantine period on board but was found to be positive following another test.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Saturday at a news conference in Tokyo that 23 passengers were released from quarantine aboard the ship without being tested because of procedural mistakes.

Officials had tracked all the passengers who hadn't been tested and asked them to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, he said, adding that 19 of those passengers are Japanese citizens and four are foreigners who live in Japan.

More than 630 people aboard the ship have been confirmed to have the virus. Inside Japan, 120 confirmed cases had been recorded as of Sunday. — Arata Yamamoto and Reuters