KEY POINTS

  • China's president Xi Jinping calls COVID-19 a “serious and complex" threat
  • As of early Monday morning, the toll had risen to 78,985 cases and 2,469 deaths
  • Italy, Iran and South Korea combined account for 16 of the 25 COVID-19 deaths outside China

Chinese president Xi Jinping on Sunday admitted the COVID-19 outbreak in his country remains “serious and complex,” even as the casualty count worldwide rose to 78,979 confirmed cases and 2,467 deaths shortly before midnight, local time. Of this rising toll, China accounted for 76,936 cases and 2,442 deaths.

As of early Monday morning, Hong Kong time, the toll had risen to 78,985 cases and 2,469 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE).

Xi again described the COVID-19 epidemic as a major public health emergency with “the fastest spread, the widest range of infections, and the most difficult prevention and control in China” since the founding of China in 1947, according to state-controlled media.

Xi's grim assessment finds confirmation in recent events occurring in China, as well as the coronavirus' unexpectedly rapid spread in Italy, Iran and South Korea last week. Fears of global pandemic are mounting and the United States is now preparing for such an eventuality while admitting it won't be spared from an impending community transmission of this highly-contagious disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week admitted to preparing for a forthcoming outbreak of COVID-19 in the mainland United States. It said the possibility of a calamitous "community spread," or a mass infection over a wide area, of the disease is "likely."

“We’re not seeing community spread here in the United States, yet, but it’s very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases over the weekend.

“Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S. This buys us more time to prepare communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread.”

On Saturday evening (Hong Kong time), mainland China reported 648 new confirmed coronavirus cases, taking its total to 76,936. It also reported 97 new deaths, bringing its death toll to 2,442. All but one of the deaths was in Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicenter. Hubei itself reported 630 new infections.

Italy has placed some 50,000 people in a dozen small northern towns in lockdown but the fallout has spread to nearby Milan, where concerns over the spread of coronavirus have disrupted events from Milan fashion Week to opera at La Scala and football Italy has placed some 50,000 people in a dozen small northern towns in lockdown but the fallout has spread to nearby Milan, where concerns over the spread of coronavirus have disrupted events from Milan fashion Week to opera at La Scala and football Photo: AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO

Announced Sunday, Hubei's new totals represented 264 more new cases and 10 fewer deaths than the previous day, which has had 64,084 infections and 2,346 deaths since the outbreak was discovered in December. There have been 32 new infections in the province’s prisons.

On the other hand, 1,742 patients were declared cured and discharged from hospital Saturday. China also said 22 of its othert provinces reported no new confirmed cases Saturday.

The seemingly stable situation in China stands in marked contrast to the upheavals in Italy, Iran and South Korea, which are now the epicenters of the coronavirus' spread outside China. Combined, the three countries as of Monday (Hong Kong time) accounted for 16 of all COVID-19 deaths outside China, a toll that now stands at 25.

There are eight deaths in Iran from 43 confirmed cases; six deaths in South Korea from 602 cases; and two deaths in Italy from 152 cases. South Korea is now the third most infected country in the world, Italy the fourth most and Iran, the seventh most. What's astounding about this ranking is that Italy and Iran only reported their first COVID-19 cases last week. South Korea saw a quintupling of confirmed cases last week.

The eight deaths in Iran are the largest number of deaths worldwide outside China. Iran only reported its first COVID-19 infection and death on February 19.  The outbreak in Iran is so far confined to four cities: Qom, Tehran, Arak and Rasht. The holy city of Qom to the south of Tehran is the disease epicenter in Iran.

Italy reported its first and second deaths from the disease within a span of 24 hours on Friday and Saturday. Italy now has 152 cases compared to only 51 confirmed cases as of Friday.

South Korea is now the most infected country outside China. The cause is a swift rise in cluster infections inside the city of Daegu in the southern part of the country. South Korea's COVID-19 cases more than doubled Saturday to 433, according to South Korea's Centers for Disease Control (KCDC). The total stood at 204 on Friday.

Of the new cases, 100 arose from the Shincheonji Church of Jesus cluster in Daegu. Another 95 are linked to a cluster at the Qingdao Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo County in the eastern part of the country.

KCDC said that out of the first 346 cases, 48.8% are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus cluster while 31.2% are linked to the hospital cluster. It also reported its first COVID-19-related death on Thursday.  A second death followed on Saturday.

Fashion critics approve of Giorgio Armani's decision to hold its Milan Fashion Week show behind closed doors after Italy announced a spike in coronavirus cases and imposed lockdown measures in some areas. Italy has confirmed 132 cases of the virus, includ Fashion critics approve of Giorgio Armani's decision to hold its Milan Fashion Week show behind closed doors after Italy announced a spike in coronavirus cases and imposed lockdown measures in some areas. Italy has confirmed 132 cases of the virus, including two deaths, and has imposed travel and movement restrictions for tens of thousands of residents in several northern towns. Photo: AFPTV / Luca PRIZIA