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COVID-19 cases surge in Iran, Italy, South Korea, deepening concerns

Last Updated Feb 24, 2020 at 9:20 am PST

Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant as a precaution against the COVID-19 at a local market in Daegu, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. South Korea's president has put the country on its highest alert for infectious diseases and says officials should take "unprecedented, powerful" steps to fight a viral outbreak. (Im Hwa-young/Yonhap via AP)

Italy is now home to Europe's largest COVID-19 outbreak, but officials haven't been able to identify the origin

Iran and South Korea are also seeing the number of cases in those countries rise

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus are rising overseas and simmering here at home as the number of infected worldwide approaches 80,000.

While three countries have seen significant spikes in cases, the word “pandemic” is not yet being used by health professionals.

Italy is now home to Europe’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, with four people having died so far and at least 190 sick. Ten towns in the country’s north have been sealed off in an attempt to contain the virus.

Officials haven’t been able to identify the origin of the outbreak in the country, which has even forced Austria to temporarily stop rail traffic across its border with Italy.

While Italian authorities cancelled soccer matches and closed schools, theatre performances and even Venice’s famed Carnival, they also sought to calm fears by noting the virus’ low mortality rate compared to the seasonal flu. The four people who died were all elderly and two of them had other serious ailments.

Meanwhile, Iran and South Korea are also seeing the number of cases in those countries rise.

One Iranian city has seen several people die after contracting the virus, and that country’s health ministry said there were now 43 confirmed cases. Iran did not report its first case of the virus until Wednesday.

In South Korea, police are working to track down members of a religious sect linked to a big spike in infections there.

South Korea’s president said Sunday he was putting his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases, ordering officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Closer to home, on B.C.’s Lower Mainland, some people have raised concerns about a lack of timely information about new cases. On Sunday, British Columbians learned a woman who tested positive for COVID-19 took an Air Canada flight from Montreal to Vancouver International — 10 days ago.

The woman was apparently connecting through Montreal on her way back from Iran. The B.C. Ministry of Health has said everyone in proximity to the woman during her travels has already been notified and that all recommended measures have been taken.

The number of confirmed cases in B.C. remains at six.