HONG KONG – An alarming wave of new cases of coronavirus outside China, with fears of a major disease outbreak in Iran, is threatening to turn the infection into a global pandemic, as countries across the Middle East have rushed to close their borders and continents so far to a large extent they have reported a significant rise in the disease.
In Iran, which recently insisted on Tuesday that it had no cases, the virus may have reached most major cities, including Tehran, and killed at least four people, according to health officials. Indeed, cases of travelers from Iran have positive for the virus in Canada and Lebanon.
The number of cases has also increased in South Korea, with the sudden spread of a secret church associated with hundreds of worshipers attending services with many people infected with the virus.
The United States now has 34 cases, with more expected, and Italy has seen a rise from three to 17 and has ordered mandatory quarantine measures.
“The cases that we see in the rest of the world, although the numbers are small, but not related to Wuhan or China, are very worrying,” Tidros Adhanum Gebresos, WHO director-general, said on Friday. Conference at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva. “These points are really very worrying.”
With concern growing about the spread and spread of the disease, stocks fell for a second day in a row on Friday amid fears that the virus would lead to a decline in global demand and harm the global economy.
Annoying reports from Tehran indicate that the virus is transmitting on a much larger scale than officials previously acknowledged. While health officials in the country have confirmed only 18 cases by Friday, the number of deaths indicates that the total number may be much higher.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said four deaths could refer to at least 200. He explained that if the virus kills about 2 percent of known victims, as reported by Chinese doctors, the number of deaths could be doubled by 50 to get a rough estimate of the case.
“People do not die immediately due to this virus – it usually takes two or three weeks after the first cases begin to spread,” said Mr. Osterholm. “So there may be many cases, and more deaths on the way. We didn’t even know that there was a problem in Iran before yesterday.”
Menouh Mehrez, a member of the Infectious Diseases Committee of the Iranian Ministry of Health, told the Persian BBC (BBC) on Friday that it was clear that the virus was spreading in Iran’s cities.
“The crown epidemic has started in the country,” she said. “It can be found in all cities of Iran.”
Kyanosh Jahanpur, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said on Friday that more than 735 people who had been hospitalized with skin-like symptoms had been examined to see whether they were infected with the virus.
On Friday, the Kuwaiti Civil Aviation Authority suspended all flights to and from Iran, which shares long borders with Afghanistan and Iraq, where health officials have a limited ability to stop the spread of the virus if it finds its way to these countries.
Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of the Infectious Hazard Administration at Williams, said the rapid increase in cases in Iran was cause for concern.
“We question the extent of the disease in Iran,” she told reporters on Friday. We wonder if more cases will be exported in the coming days. We want all countries to be aware of this and to put in place detailed measures to catch these cases as soon as possible. “
With growing concern that Iran was emerging as a new and important vector for transmission, the country in which the coronavirus originated was also responding to important negative developments.
China officials, already struggling to deal with an outbreak that has infected more than 76,000 people and led to 2,300 deaths, announced a new front in its war on the virus on Friday, as officials reported groups of infections in at least four prisons in three provinces.
The outbreaks, which affected at least 512 prisoners and guards, raised the specter of the disease, which had spread through the country’s vast prison system.
More than 200 injuries occurred in a prison in Jining City, 450 miles east of Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province and amid the outbreak; the officials there suggested that the group might be linked to the prison guard.
In South Korea, the total number of cases exceeded 200 on Friday, and authorities were racing to track down all the people who had contacted members of the Chinchunggi Church of Jesus, whose members accounted for two-thirds of the new infections in the country.
Health officials said more than 540 other church members have reported possible symptoms, raising the possibility of a higher number of cases in the country.
As of Friday, more than 340 members of Shinchongi, which are the main South Korean churches, are inaccessible to worship, according to health officials who had hoped to examine them for signs of infection.
In response, the government closes thousands of kindergartens and community centers, and even bans foreign political gatherings that are a feature of life in downtown Seoul.
All four HIV-related deaths in Iran occurred in Qom, a holy city popular with Shiite pilgrims across the Middle East.
Mr. Jahanpur, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said that people have already proven HIV in Qom, Tehran and Jilan, near the Caspian Sea.
“Most of these people were Qom residents or had traveled to Qom in the past days or weeks,” he said.
In Qom, schools and religious seminars were closed on Thursday as officials urged people to avoid gathering in large groups. But on Friday, as Iranians went to vote in the parliamentary elections, polling stations were open, and mass inks were gathered for people to dip their fingers to prove they were widely used.
With rumors spread all over the country on instant messaging services such as Telegram, an increasingly confused and worried audience watched as Tehran’s largest metro station suddenly closed. Wearing protective clothing, the workers landed on the station, apparently responding to reports of sick passengers. It remained closed on Friday night.
There were growing doubts about how the government would cope with the outbreak. Mahmoud Sadiqi, an outspoken member of parliament from Tehran, accused the government of “covering up an epidemic.”
Although the source of the outbreak in Iran could not be determined, officials speculated that it had begun with the large number of Chinese workers in the country.
Critics have accused the government of reducing the disease, and of failing to take strict precautions to prevent its arrival in the country, to avoid provoking China, a major trading partner and lifeline for the Iranian economy, in the face of US sanctions.
Sanctions imposed on Iran could hinder its ability to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the country’s ability to mobilize international support.
“Iran is facing problems getting specialized medicines for rare and special diseases because of the sanctions – either private companies or banks refuse to work with Iran for fear of secondary US sanctions,” said Tara Sebhri Farr, an Iranian researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Once again, the new global groups have demonstrated the difficulty of judging the true number of infections, amid fears that definitions are not reported and the rapid transformation of confirmed cases.
In order to foster the idea of a widespread virus, the epidemiological modeling team from Imperial College London estimated on Friday that two-thirds of those infected with Corona virus who left mainland China before imposing restrictions had traveled around the world without being detected.
The team, which is one of several modeling groups consulted by WH.O. Regularly, it calculates the number of cases detected in different countries and the number of cases that should have been discovered based on the flights that departed Wuhan before most of the flights outside China ended.
The modeling team’s study concluded that disclosure failures “could lead to multiple chains of transmission from human to human yet to be discovered”.
The virus spreads even where it is expected to have the closest monitoring and prevention. In Beijing, the escalation of cases in two hospitals has raised fears that the epidemic may grow in a city yet largely exempt from extensive injuries.
The injuries – and in some cases deaths – of medical personnel have become a powerful symbol of the epidemic death toll for many Chinese. On Thursday, another doctor died in Wuhan. The doctor, Peng Yinhua, 29, had postponed his wedding to continue treating patients, according to a statement issued by the hospital where he worked.
Earlier this week, a senior doctor, Liu Zhiming, director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, died.
Dr. Osterholm said the quasi-random nature of new reports and new deaths is an indication that the virus is moving faster than countries reporting to and.
“How many of these gatherings, travel situations and prison prisons should we see before we realize that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg?” He said. “The test is just preparation around the world. It is barely present in Africa now. Even in the United States, we test travel cases – but we do not test in any meaningful way that would capture cases that we did not suspect existed.”
Vivian Wang from Hong Kong wrote, Donald J. McNeill Jr. and Fernaz Fassihe from New York, and Stephen Lee Myers from Beijing. Mark Santora contributed reports from London.