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Germany closes borders as South Korea reports decline in coronavirus cases

Leaders of G7 countries to hold video conference to discuss response to outbreak

A South Korean disinfection worker sprays anti-septic solution to prevent the coronavirus (Covid-19) spread in Yeongdeungpo slum on Monday in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in said on Monday he was increasingly confident the country would overcome the coronavirus as the rate of new infections continued to drop, although authorities noted another large cluster had emerged in the greater Seoul area.

The country reported 74 new coronavirus infections on Monday, slightly lower than the previous day, health officials said, taking the tally of cases to 8,236, with 75 deaths.

New infections have been on a declining trajectory, with the latest figures well below a February 29th peak of 909, and slightly down from 76 on Sunday.

Another 303 patients have been released after recovering, bringing the number of those who have gone home to 1,137.

“Unless there are unexpected developments, we expect this trend will also gain momentum,” Mr Moon said during a meeting with health officials at Seoul city hall. “Our confidence that we can overcome Covid-19 is growing.”

However, officials warned that “sporadic outbreaks” continued in the hardest-hit areas, such as the southeastern city of Daegu.

One new cluster surfaced in Seongnam city south of Seoul, the capital, where at least 40 members of a Protestant church tested positive, including the pastor, after services on March 1st and March 8th, despite government calls to cancel mass gatherings.

Leaders of the G7 countries will hold a video conference at 2pm on Monday to discuss a joint response to the coronavirus outbreak, officials have said.

Several countries imposed bans on mass gatherings such as sporting, cultural and religious events to combat the disease that has infected over 169,000 people globally and killed more than 6,500.

Europe

The death toll in Italy, which has Europe’s oldest population, rose to 1,809 by Sunday after a 25 per cent jump in 24 hours. The number of cases is 24,747.

France and Spain imposed lockdowns on tens of millions of people while Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners.

Greece has closed restaurants, bars and cafes, ski resorts, hair salons and cinemas to curb the virus. The country has 331 confirmed cases and four deaths.

Germany has partially closed its borders with five neighbours, leading to queues at some crossings.

German police introduced controls at the usually check-free borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark. Police turned back some pedestrians at Kehl, across the Rhine river from the French city of Strasbourg.

Interior minister Horst Seehofer said that people “without a valid reason to travel” would not be allowed across.

Denmark shut its own border over the weekend – as did Poland and the Czech Republic.

Germany has confirmed more than 4,800 infections and 12 deaths.

Czech authorities are ordering a lockdown of 21 towns and villages in an area about 240km east of the capital to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

The health authority in the nearby city of Olomouc barred residents from leaving those places and no one without residency can travel there.

Iran

Iranian news agencies said a 78-year-old member of the Iranian clerical body that chooses the country’s supreme leader has died from the illness caused by coronavirus.

He was the latest of several senior Iranian officials to have been infected in the worsening outbreak. The outbreak has infected nearly 15,000 people in Iran, where the death toll among those with the virus has reached 853.

The real numbers may be even higher, as some have questioned the government’s reporting. The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, a low-profile, moderate member of the Assembly of Experts, died after contracting the Covid-19 virus. The clerical assembly has the authority to appoint or remove the supreme leader, who has the final say on all major policies.

Japan

In Japan, hospitals in Nagoya city in the country’s industrial heartland have more coronavirus patients than they can treat, forcing transfers to nearby areas and offering a glimpse of the challenges the outbreak poses for a country with a large elderly population.

Japan has closed schools and cancelled public events. But because testing hasn’t been widespread, some medical experts say the extent of infection is understated, and a surge could yet happen.

That would put more of the country under the strain now being felt in Nagoya, and force a nationwide scramble to shift patients, many of them elderly, to hospitals in areas with capacity.

Elderly people are especially vulnerable to serious effects the virus. Japan has the world’s oldest population, with more than 28 per cent aged 65 or over.

UK

In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson will issue an address following a Cobra meeting to consider measures including banning mass gatherings and lengthy household isolation for the elderly.

A second Westminster MP confirmed they had coronavirus. Jarrow Labour MP Kate Osborne posted news of her diagnosis on Twitter. It comes after health minister Nadine Dorries confirmed she had tested positive for the disease last week.

US

In the United States, the US Federal Reserve slashed interest rates in emergency action and other central banks took similar aggressive steps to cushion the economic impact of the disease, but Asian stock markets and the dollar continued to tumble on Monday.

Bars and cafes in New York and Los Angeles have been ordered to only sell food on a take-out or delivery basis. Nightclubs, movie theatres, small theatre houses and concert venues in New York have also been ordered to close.

Liberia

Liberia has announced its first Covid-19 case. The executive director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Nathaniel Blama, contracted the virus. Mr Blama came to Liberia from Switzerland on Friday. Information minister Eugene Nagbe said that “there is no cause for panic” given measures put in place by the government to contact, trace, test and control any emergence of the virus.

South and Central America

Nations in South and Central America ramped up measures to contain the infection, with Panama banning entry of non resident foreigners and Honduras closing its borders to passenger traffic for a week.

The leaders of Argentina and Peru also announced border closures on Sunday to curb coronavirus. Argentina will close its borders for 15 days to non residents. – Reuters and PA