Feb 25, 2020 - World

The global scramble to contain the coronavirus

Taking precaution, in the Philippines. Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

The coronavirus is spreading quickly in cities nowhere near Wuhan, China, and the window to prevent a global pandemic is narrowing.

Zoom in: Here's a look at what comes with a coronavirus outbreak in communities outside China that have been hardest hit so far.

In South Korea, the biggest outbreak outside of China has prompted the closure of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive sect that worships its founder as the second coming of Christ.

  • Most of the known cases in South Korea have been traced back to the church's branch in Daegu. Police have been dispatched to track down and test members.
  • But hundreds of them appear to be in hiding. “For them, the fear of being outed as a Shincheonji follower is bigger than the fear of getting ill from the virus," Shin Hyun-wook, a former member, told the Washington Post, citing the “cult stigma.”

Towns in northern Italy, where a fast-growing outbreak has sent fears rippling around Europe, have been locked down — mirroring precautions taken in China, albeit on a much smaller scale.

  • Carnival was brought to a close on Sunday in Venice, two days ahead of schedule, and four Serie A soccer matches were canceled.
  • A major Armani fashion show was held in Milan without spectators and streamed online instead.
  • Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League and Italy's most popular politician, called on the government to shut Italy's borders and used the outbreak to justify his anti-immigration policies.

Iran has reported 12 deaths but just 66 known cases, an improbable ratio given the virus' 1–2% fatality rate, suggesting a much larger outbreak.

  • A local representative in the holy city of Qom said 50 people had died there, though Tehran vehemently denied it.
  • Clerics have claimed that to close Qom's shrine to pilgrims would be to give in to "a U.S. plot to undermine the religious institution," per the FT.
  • Authorities blamed the virus for record-low turnout in Friday's parliamentary elections.
  • The first confirmed cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain were all linked back to Iran.

New border closures are being announced in response to the outbreaks in Iran and elsewhere.

  • Meanwhile, five countries turned away the Westerdam cruise ship and its 2,257 passengers and crew because one was believed to be infected.
  • Cambodia took the ship in. It was another opportunity for Hun Sen, Cambodia's dictator, to downplay the risks from the virus and continue to curry favor with China.

In Blagoveshchensk, Russia, locals are now looking across the frozen Amur River that divides them from China with resentment, rather than a sense of opportunity, the NYT reports.

  • "Businesses that depend on China are shriveling, hotels once full of Chinese guests stand empty and the local university, once a magnet for paying pupils from China, is struggling to cope."
  • "Giant neon signs, clearly visible from the Russian side, flash constant reminders of the crisis, displaying the Chinese Communist Party’s rallying cry: 'Go Wuhan, Go China.'"

In China, the year's most important political gathering was postponed today. The National People’s Congress was due to begin March 5.

  • President Xi Jinping said over the weekend that the virus "is a crisis for us and it is also a major test."
  • The test now extends far beyond China's borders.

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