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Coronavirus Cases Surge Outside Of China


Switching gears now to the coronavirus outbreak, which has taken a turn over the last few days. While the number of new cases in China appears to be going down, the disease is flaring up in several other parts of the world. South Korea, Iran and Italy are all grappling with surging numbers of cases. Iran, which as of Wednesday hadn't reported any coronavirus cases, now has eight deaths and is talking about potentially quarantining major cities. NPR's Jason Beaubien has been following the global outbreak, and he's with us now from Hong Kong.

Jason, thanks so much for joining us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: No, it's good to be with you.

MARTIN: So what's happened over the last few days? Why this rise in cases all of a sudden in several different places?

BEAUBIEN: You know, that is not entirely clear, and that's part of what's really concerning here. These new outbreaks have come on really quickly. You know, at the beginning of last week, Korea only had 29 cases. Now they've got more than 600. And prior to Thursday, Italy officially only had three confirmed cases. Now it has more than a hundred. You know, and as you mentioned, Iran also - we weren't seeing - it didn't seem like there was a problem there. Now there's eight deaths in Iran.

And that's really worrying, in part because it shows that it seems like there is a much more advanced outbreak. You know, people don't get to the stage where they're actually dying from this disease for weeks, so presumably, there's a lot of other cases out there that haven't been detected in Iran. And that's what's so concerning - is that there could be a lot more going on.

MARTIN: So how are the countries that you just mentioned responding?

BEAUBIEN: Well, they're really locking things down. You know, Iran has ordered schools, universities, cultural centers shut down in 14 provinces. Museums have been shut down. Some city officials in Tehran were even talking about potentially quarantining the entire capital if things get a lot worse.

Italy is taking similar steps. They're ordering businesses closed - basically locked down the sort of main areas where these cases seem to be coming out of. You know, they even canceled the - some Serie A matches, which is Italy's top-flight soccer league where Cristiano Ronaldo plays. They've canceled some of those matches. So, you know, that's really getting serious when the Italians are doing that.

Korea has declared this to be a Level 4 emergency, which is the highest level possible. So countries are really trying to grapple with it and trying to move quickly and basically trying to contain this before it gets larger in these places.

MARTIN: OK. I'm trying to think about how to ask this, but without being flamboyant in my language. But I do want to ask, is there a concern that this is getting out of control?

BEAUBIEN: That is the concern. The concern amongst WHO and amongst, you know, epidemiologists is that has this - have we just seen a turning point? Have - and the head of the WHO even talked about this on Friday. He said that there is this window of opportunity in terms of when we can contain this. He said that window is rapidly narrowing. And he's basically saying that the world needs to really act fast to control these flare-ups.

You know, and there's great concern that if it does continue to do this in these types of places, then it's going to spread to places with much weaker health system - places in - parts of Africa or Latin America that just don't have strong enough health systems to be able to bring this under control.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Jason Beaubien with us from Hong Kong. Jason, thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.
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