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Coronavirus updates: Cases in South Korea surge as U.S. prepares for pandemic

As number of cases in South Korea surge, here is the latest news on Feb. 22.

Cases surge in South Korea after outbreak at church

Twenty-three cruise passengers disembarked cruise ship without testing

Coronavirus incubation could be as long as 27 days

Tokyo postpones training for Olympics volunteers over virus fears

U.S. takes steps to prepare for pandemic as global COVID—19 cases rise

• Federal judge blocks effort to transfer coronavirus patients to California city

• China's central bank vows to take more steps to support virus-hit economy

Twenty-three cruise passengers not tested before disembarking

Twenty three passengers were released from quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship without being tested for COVID-19 because of procedural mistakes, Japan's health minister admitted Saturday.

Katsunobu Kato said the 23 were tested before the quarantine began aboard the vesselthat was quarantined off the coast of the city of Yokohama from Feb. 5. More than 600 people were infected with the virus aboard the ship which had 3,700 people on board.

But he said they were allowed to leave the ship on Wednesday and Thursday without being tested again.

Three of them have since tested negative and most of the others have agreed to be tested, he added.

Officials had tracked all the passengers which had not 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 reside in Japan.

“We deeply regret that there was an operational error," Kato told a news conference Saturday. “We will examine what went wrong so we will not repeat the same mistake.” — Arata Yamamoto

China reports fall in new cases, amid concerns over rising global spread

China reported a sharp decrease in new deaths and cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, but a surge of infections in South Korea and new cases in Iran added to unease about its rapid global spread.

Mainland China had 397 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections Friday, down from 889 a day earlier, but only 31 cases were outside of the virus epicenter of Hubei province, the lowest number since the National Health Commission started compiling nationwide data a month ago. — Salina Lee

Hubei's medical supply situation improving, shortages remain

The medical supply situation in China's Hubei province — which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak — has improved, but items such as protective suits remain scarce, a provincial official said at a briefing on Saturday.

Cao Guangjing, the vice governor of Hubei, said that despite the improvements, levels of supplies such as the suits were lower than they should be.

He added that the food inventory in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, was ample and that cross-provincial logistics were smooth. — Reuters

Second death in Italy

A second patient died has died from the COVID—19 in northern Italy on Saturday, according to authorities.

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

As the outbreak spread in the north of the country, a dozen northern Italian towns were on effective lockdown on Saturday as local authorities ordered schools, businesses and restaurants closed, and to cancel sporting events and Masses. The mayor of Milan, the business capital of Italy, shuttered public offices.

At least 50 cases have been reported so far in the region. — Claudio Lavanga and the Associated Press

State TV reports Iranian mayor tests positive for virus

The mayor of a district in Iran's capital Tehran has tested positive for coronavirus, state TV reported Saturday.

Morteza the mayor of district 13, was taken to hospital after being diagnosed with symptoms Friday.

The director of public relations for district 13 initially had denied Rahmanzadeh had contracted the virus.

Kianoosh Jahanpour, a spokesman for the Iran Health Ministry, confirmed that five people have died from the respiratory illness in the country and 28 people have tested positive for it. — Amin Khodadadi

Cases surge in South Korea after cluster outbreak at church

Over 200 new COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in South Korea Saturday, according to the Korea Center for Disease Control.

This brought the total number of cases to 433. Two people have died from the disease in the country.

The new cases appear to be centered around the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu, where a member of the congregation spread the virus.

“As we continue to communicate with the Shincheonji Church of Daegu we are getting the entire congregation list of the church,” the KCDC said in a briefing Friday. It added that it has received a list of nearly 9,300 people who attend the church.

“Regarding how so much infection could have happened from the church, we think that it could partly be because of the way of worshipping at the Shincheonji Church,” the KCDC said. They were referencing recent photographs showing the worshippers in a confined space and sitting very close together.

The church members and others who made contact with them will be immediately placed under self-quarantine.

But the mayor of Daegu said Friday it was facing an “unprecedented crisis.”

The Shincheonji Church — whose leader claims he is an angel of Jesus — has become the biggest cluster of viral infections in South Korea, where a surge in new cases has raised fears that the outbreak is getting out of control. — Stella Kim and Nayeong Kim

Virus incubation period of 27 days reported in Chinese patient

A 70-year-old man in China’s Hubei Province was infected with coronavirus but did not show symptoms until 27 days later, the local government said Saturday, suggesting the virus’ incubation period could be much longer than the 14 days which most people have been quarantined for.

While there have been anecdotes of longer incubation in patients in China, scientists say definitive evidence is still lacking. The infection is long lasting and some patients may initially experience mild, unrecognized symptoms, experts say.

If the virus does have a longer incubation period, it could complicate efforts to contain the spread of the epidemic that has killed thousands of people in mainland China. — Alex Shi, Dawn Liu and Jane Weaver

Tokyo postpones training for Olympics volunteers over virus fears

Organizers for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics have postponed training for volunteers because of the spread of the coronavirus in Japan.

It had been scheduled to begin Saturday, the organizing committee said in a statement released late Friday.

The postponement of training will not affect other preparations and organizers are not considering cancelling the games, the statement said. — Reuters

China's central bank vows to take more steps to support virus-hit economy

China’s central bank will take further steps to support the virus-hit economy, including releasing more liquidity and lowering funding costs for companies, a vice governor of the bank told state media.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will guide market interest rates lower, Liu Guoqiang, the bank official, told the Financial News in an interview Friday.

“China’s monetary policy space is still very sufficient, and the toolbox is also sufficient. We are confident and able to offset the impact of the epidemic,” Liu told the newspaper. — Reuters

U.S. takes steps to prepare for pandemic as global coronavirus cases rise

As global concerns over the coronavirus outbreak grow, the U.S. is taking steps to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Health authorities are closely monitoring the spread of the virus — not only in China, where the outbreak began and where the vast majority of the nearly 77,000 cases have been diagnosed — but also in the growing number of cases in other countries.

By definition, a pandemic is an epidemic on more than one continent. Erika Edwards

Federal judge blocks effort to transfer coronavirus patients to California city

A federal court blocked efforts Friday night to transfer dozens of patients who tested positive for coronavirus from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to an empty building in Southern California.

U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton granted a temporary restraining order after the city of Costa Mesa filed a request for an injunction earlier in the day.

Named as defendants were the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of General Services.

An expedited hearing is scheduled Monday in Santa Ana, California. — Alicia Victoria Lozano