(LONDON) — An American soldier based in South Korea has become the first U.S. service member to be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus as the outbreak, which began in China, infects more than 80,000 people globally.
U.S. military officials said the patient, a 23-year-old U.S. Forces Korea soldier stationed at the Camp Carroll army base near Daegu, is currently in self-quarantine at his off-base residence after testing positive for the newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19.
The soldier’s diagnosis prompted U.S. Forces Korea to raise its risk level to “high” on Wednesday, “out of a strong abundance of caution and utilizing the USFK Commander’s authorities to protect the USFK population from COVID-19,” according to a press release.
South Korea has the second-highest national total of coronavirus cases behind China. As of Wednesday, South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s recorded 1,146 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 11 fatalities.
The recent spike in cases has also led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday to raise its travel warning to the highest level for Americans contemplating travel to South Korea.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Americans should be preparing for the virus’ arrival and a “significant disruption of our lives.”
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Messonnier said at a press conference Tuesday. “I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming, and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”
So far, there has been no community spread in the United States. Forty-three people repatriated on charter flights from Wuhan, China, and from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan have tested positive for COVID-19, and 15 cases have been detected in the United States via the country’s health system. Among those 57 cases, only two involved human transmissions in the country, and those transmissions were among members of the same household.
“As more and more countries experience community spread,” Messonnier added, “successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.”
Meanwhile, Italy reported another spike in new infections overnight. As of Wednesday, the Italian Ministry of Health said it’s recorded 322 confirmed cases and 10 fatalities. About 75% of those cases were in the northern Lombardy region, prompting some towns to suspend public gatherings, demonstrations and sporting events and to close schools, businesses and restaurants.
The first cases in Italy were linked to Chinese tourists, according to the health ministry.
The new coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December. As of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said it’s received 78,064 reports of confirmed cases and 2,715 deaths on the Chinese mainland. More than 83% of the cases and all but one death were in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan. Chinese authorities have since placed the city under lockdown.
An additional 126 confirmed infections have been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan, with two deaths in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan, according to China’s National Health Commission.
Outside of China, there are at least 2,459 cases confirmed in 33 nations, resulting in at least 34 fatalities, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, which has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.
Although the virus “absolutely” has the potential to become a pandemic, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it’s still too soon to classify it that way.
Bruce Aylward, an epidemiologist who led a team of international experts in China, said that the epidemic is slowing there. It’s impossible to know if this trend of decreasing infections will continue, but for now, Aylward thinks China’s response to the outbreak, which included rapidly building hospitals and imposing strict lockdown measures in cities hardest hit by the virus, is working.
“The implications are that you can actually affect the course of this disease, but it takes a very aggressive and tough program,” Aylward said at a WHO press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.
Japan has the third-highest national total, when including the nearly 700 cases diagnosed aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The cruise ship has been quarantined at Yokohama port since Feb. 5 and 691 people on board have tested positive for COVID-19. Three passengers have died, all of whom were Japanese nationals and in their 80s, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
All those who have been infected were brought ashore for treatment, while the rest were confined to their rooms until the quarantine period ends. Passengers who have tested negative for the virus disembarked the ship last week.
Beyond the cruise ship, an additional 157 cases have been confirmed in Japan, according to the WHO.
Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters Wednesday that the International Olympic Committee and local organizers are going as planned with the 2020 Summer Olympics, set to open in Tokyo on July 24.
Iran now has the highest death toll from the outbreak outside of China as cases rapidly spread across the country. At least 139 cases have been confirmed in Iran, along with 19 deaths, according to the country’s state-run news agency.
Among those infected is Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, who is head of the national headquarters tasked with containing the coronavirus outbreak.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday there are no immediate plans to quarantine virus-hit cities.
Meanwhile, a cluster of cases has popped up at a tourist hotel on the island of Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands.
The Costa Adeje Palace hotel has been placed under quarantine with some 800 guests confined to their rooms while health workers test everyone for COVID-19. At least four people have tested positive so far, public health officials for the Canary Islands told ABC News on Wednesday.
A doctor from Italy’s virus-hit Lombardy region was the first guest from the hotel to be diagnosed. He and his wife, who tested negative, were transported to a local hospital where they were both placed in isolation, officials said.
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