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Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021

Coronavirus outbreak worsens in Italy and Japan, as situation stabilizes in China

Leon Abboud, Worldwide Engineering
The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus has surpassed 115,000, with the death toll reaching more than 4,200, as countries around the world continue to grapple with the challenges of containing the pandemic.

On Wednesday, China reported a slight increase in new daily cases, overturning several consecutive days of fewer new infections. The rise, from 19 on Monday to 24 on Tuesday, has been attributed to individuals returning from overseas, underscoring the difficulties faced by governments as the virus continues to spread rapidly across multiple continents.

Neighboring Japan and South Korea also saw an uptick in numbers Tuesday, with Japan reporting 54 more cases -- one of the biggest single-day jumps since the outbreak began, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

Authorities in South Korea, meanwhile, confirmed 242 new cases, bringing the national total to 7,755.

As with China, the infection rate in South Korea had slowed in recent days, bringing hope that the situation was beginning to stabilize. Though one of the world's worst hit countries, South Korea has been lauded for its widespread testing drive, which has so far seen around 200,000 people screened for the virus. However, new outbreaks linked to a call center in Seoul and the country's military are likely to alarm officials.

Western countries are also struggling with their own worsening outbreaks. The number of cases in the US has now reached at least 1,000, with numerous states declaring emergencies.

In Europe, cases have now been confirmed in every member nation of the European Union. Italy remains on total lockdown as its healthcare system struggles to cope, while nearby countries like Germany and France report alarming spikes in daily cases.

In a speech earlier this week, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterated that different countries are facing "different scenarios," with each requiring a tailored response. "It's not about containment or mitigation -- which is a false dichotomy. It's about both," said Tedros.

Hubei aims to get back to business

China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, will allow businesses to gradually come back online and will resume some public transportation services, the provincial government said in a statement Wednesday.

Checkpoints will continue to be set up to screen anyone who wishes to enter or leave Hubei, while the government will also assist workers to return to their workplaces. Schools across the province will continue to be suspended until further notice, it added.

The decision comes as the number of cases in the province has declined significantly. Hubei was reporting thousands of infections a day just weeks ago. There were only 14 new infections reported in Hubei Tuesday, according to China's National Health Commission.

During a visit to Hubei's capital Wuhan on Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that the country's control efforts had "turned the tide." Of the 80,778 people to have contacted the virus inside mainland China since the outbreak was first identified in December, 61,475 have recovered, according to the country's National Health Commission.

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