Australia, Thailand report 1st COVID-19 deaths as coronavirus continues global spread

Coronavirus cases surged in Italy, and France closed the world-famous Louvre Museum on Sunday as the deadly outbreak has now hit more than 60 countries and the death toll worldwide reached at least 3,000.

New fronts in the outbreak opened rapidly over the weekend, deepening the sense of crisis that has already sent financial markets plummeting, emptied the streets in many cities and rewritten the routines of millions of people. More than 88,000 around the globe have been infected, with the virus appearing on every continent but Antarctica.

Australia and Thailand reported their first deaths Sunday, while the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic recorded their first infections.

Italian authorities announced that the number of people infected in the country soared 50 per cent to 1,694 in just 24 hours, and five more people had died, bringing the death toll there to 34. France raised its number of reported cases to 130, an increase of 30 from the day before, and said it has seen two deaths from the virus.

The U.S. government advised Americans against travelling to the two northern Italian regions hit hardest, including Lombardy, which includes Milan. Major American airlines began suspending flights to Milan.

The travel restrictions against Italy and the rising alarm in France could deal a heavy blow to the countries’ tourism industries. Spring, especially Easter, is a hugely popular time for schoolchildren to visit France and Italy.

Medical staff wearing protective suits carry the coffin containing the body of a person who tested positive for COVID-19 at the Garden Hotel in Laigueglia, northwest Italy, on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

Tourism accounts for 13 per cent of the economy in Italy, a country famed for its world-class art museums, archeological sites and architectural treasures. More than 5.6 million Americans visit Italy every year, representing nine per cent of foreign tourists.

Iran, Iraq and South Korea, among other places, also saw the number of infections rise. Cases in the U.S. climbed to at least 74 with the first death inside the United States reported on Saturday — a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health problems but hadn’t travelled to any affected areas.

As a result, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Saturday, directing state agencies to use “all resources necessary” to prepare for and respond to the outbreak. The declaration also allows the use of the Washington National Guard, if necessary.

Panic buying of daily necessities emerged in Japan, where professional baseball teams have played spring-training games in deserted stadiums.

Tourist sites across Asia, Europe and the Mideast were deserted. Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia have been closed to foreign pilgrims. And governments have closed schools and banned big gatherings.

20 cases in Canada

Ontario confirmed three new positive cases of coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 11.

The new cases involve a woman, 34, in York Region, and another woman, 51, and her husband, 69, in Durham region. Both women had just returned from Iran.

York Region public health officials have begun a search for anyone who might have come in contact with one of the cases, either in the air or on a GO bus to Richmond Hill.

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Also on Saturday, health officials in B.C. announced the province’s 8th case of coronavirus, a woman visiting the province from Tehran, Iran.

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said the woman is in her 60s and had been visiting family in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. Henry says she arrived earlier this week and began experiencing symptoms once in Canada. Henry said that her illness is mild and she is recovering in the home where she is staying.

There are  currently 20 confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada, including one in Quebec. There have been no deaths.

Louvre closes in Paris

In France, the archbishop of Paris told parish priests to put the Communion bread in worshippers’ hands, not in their mouths. French officials advised people to forgo the customary kisses on the cheek upon greeting others. And the Louvre closed after workers who guard the Mona Lisa and the rest of its priceless artworks expressed fear of being contaminated by the stream of visitors from around the world.

The Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, got 9.6 million visitors last year, almost three-quarters of them from abroad.

Louvre staffers were also concerned about museum workers from Italy who had come to the museum to collect works by Leonardo da Vinci that were loaned for a major exhibition.

Tourists stand outside the Louvre museum in Paris on Sunday. (Rafael Yaghobzadeh/Associated Press)

“We are very worried because we have visitors from everywhere,” said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative. “The risk is very, very, very great.” While there are no known infections among the museum’s 2,300 workers, “it’s only a question of time,” he said.

The shutdown followed a government decision Saturday to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

Among the frustrated visitors was Charles Lim from Singapore. He and his wife, Jeanette, chose Paris to celebrate their first wedding anniversary and bought tickets in advance for the Louvre.

“We waited for about three hours before giving up,” he said. “It was incredibly disappointing.”

More deaths in China, South Korea and Iran

China, where the outbreak began two months ago, on Sunday reported a slight uptick in new cases over the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that the number exceeded 500. They remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.

South Korea reported 210 additional cases and two more deaths, raising its totals to 3,736 cases and 20 fatalities.

South Korea has the second-largest number of infections outside China, with most of the cases in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas.

Medical staff wearing protective suits are seen outside a hospital in Daegu, South Korea, on Sunday. (Kim Hyun-tae/Yonhap via AP)

South Korea’s president used a speech marking the 101st anniversary of an anti-Japanese independence uprising to call for national unity to overcome the crisis.

Iran’s death toll climbed to 54 as the number of confirmed cases jumped overnight by more than half, to 978. The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday.

Around the world, many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all.

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