COVID-19: Here's what's happening around the world Wednesday

The latest:

  • WHO chief warns health workers are ‘dangerously’ ill-equipped to combat COVID-19, calls for more production of masks, gowns, gloves.
  • South Korea struggling to treat COVID-19 patients in Daegu as case numbers rise.
  • Iran reports 586 new coronavirus cases, says 92 people have died.
  • B.C. and Ontario report additional cases Tuesday, bringing total coronavirus cases in Canada to 33.

South Korea reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as many sick people waited for hospital beds in Daegu, the city at the centre of the worst outbreak outside China.

The new cases bring South Korea’s total to 5,621, with at least 32 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

Most cases were in and around Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city, where the flu-like virus has spread rapidly through members of a fringe Christian group.

Health officials expect the number of new cases to be high for the near future as they complete the testing of more than 200,000 members of the sect, as well as thousands of other suspected cases from smaller clusters.

“We need special measures in times of emergency,” South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a cabinet meeting, referring to extra medical resources for hotspots and economic measures including a $9.8 billion US stimulus.

Hospitals in South Korea’s hardest-hit areas were scrambling to accommodate the surge in new patients.

In Daegu, 2,300 people were waiting to be admitted to hospitals and temporary medical facilities, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said. A 100-bed military hospital that had been handling many of the most serious cases was due to have 200 additional beds available by Thursday, he added.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the new coronavirus, which emerged from China late last year to spread around the world. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said on Tuesday that globally “about 3.4 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases have died.”

The WHO — which has been urging countries to work on containment and simultaneously prepare for increased case numbers — on Tuesday warned of a global shortage and price gouging for protective equipment to fight the virus and asked companies and governments to rapidly scale up production.

“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers,” Tedros said on Tuesday.

Read on for what’s happening in Canada and the U.S., as well as some of the harder-hit regions around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

In Canada, public health officials have reported a total of 33 cases.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been assessing risk as the global outbreak progresses, says the risk is low in Canada.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Twitter Tuesday that it’s “important for each of us to be prepared for all scenarios.” She urged people to make a plan for what they would do if there’s an outbreak in their community, including making plans around work and child care and ensuring they have enough prescription medicine.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

Officials in Washington state are ramping up spending and preparations to ensure it’s ready for more cases of coronavirus. 2:04

Virus clusters in the United States led schools and subways to sanitize, while fears spread among nursing home residents, who are especially vulnerable. The number of infections in the U.S. topped 100 and the death toll climbed to nine. All of the deaths were in Washington state, and most of them were residents of a Seattle-area nursing home.

The U.S. Federal Reserve announced the biggest interest-rate cut in over a decade to try to counter the expected damage to the economy, and stocks rose briefly on Wall Street in reaction before slumping again. 

As federal, state and local health organizations planned for a broader outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave health-care workers the OK to use an industrial type of respirator mask often used to protect construction workers from dust and debris.

Here’s what’s happening in mainland China and Hong Kong

A worker wearing a protective suit disinfects the departure area of the railway station in Hefei, in China’s eastern Anhui province, on Wednesday. China reported 38 more deaths from the new coronavirus but a fall in fresh cases for a third consecutive day. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

In China, the count of new cases dropped again Wednesday, with just 119 reported. It is still by far the hardest-hit country, with over 80,000 infections and about 95 per cent of the world’s deaths.

China has faced questions about its handling of the outbreak, including questions about its numbers and changes it made in how it reported cases.

“We scrutinized this data and we believe this decline is real,” said WHO outbreak expert Maria Van Kerkhove, who travelled to China as part of a team from the UN agency. She said the extraordinary measures taken there, including the lockdown of more than 60 million people, had a significant effect on the direction of the outbreak.

“We believe that a reduction of cases in other countries, including Italy, Korea, Iran, everywhere, that this is possible,” she said.

Here’s what’s happening in Japan

Children wearing face masks, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, are seen on a street in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Japan’s confirmed infections topped 1,000, mostly from the Diamond Princess cruise liner. 

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Wednesday said the coronavirus outbreak could inflict big damage on the economy, stressing the central bank’s readiness to take “appropriate action” to underpin a fragile recovery.

Here’s what’s happening in Iran and the Middle East

An Iranian man wearing a face mask sprays alcohol on the hands of people outside an office building in Tehran on Wednesday. Iran has scrambled to halt the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, shutting schools and universities, suspending major cultural and sporting events, and cutting back on work hours. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran on Wednesday said the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak there was at 92.

The number of cases in Iran has been on the rise, with 586 new cases reported Wednesday, bringing the total reported case count in Iran to 2,922.

President Hassan Rouhani said that the coronavirus outbreak has affected almost all provinces in the country.

Here’s what’s happening in Italy and Europe

A sign reading ‘no more masks’ is seen in front of a pharmacy in Montpellier, southern France. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)

Twenty-seven people died in Italy over the past 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 79, the Civil Protection Agency said. The total number of cases rose to 2,502. Italy has, to date, seen the most cases in Europe but it’s not the only country struggling with COVID-19.

A fourth person has died from coronavirus infection in France, which has 212 confirmed cases, and President Emmanuel Macron warned that the health crisis could last several months. In Germany, case numbers increased to 188 Tuesday from 157 on Monday.

Spain reported its first death from the outbreak in Valencia, a local health official said on Tuesday, when around 150 people had been diagnosed and some 100 health workers in the Basque region were isolated in their homes.

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