Many more infected across the globe, including Iran's deputy health minister, Latest World News - The New Paper

Many more infected across the globe, including Iran's deputy health minister

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SEOUL : South Korea aims to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the centre of a surge in coronavirus cases, as countries stepped up efforts to stop the virus that emerged in China and is now spreading in Europe and the Middle East.

Fast-spreading outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, and first cases in several European and Middle East countries, have fed worries of a pandemic, or worldwide spread of the virus.

South Korea has the most virus cases outside China and reported its 10th death and 144 new cases, for a total of 977.

President Moon Jae-in said the situation was "very grave".

About 68 per cent of South Korea's cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where the outbreak is believed to have begun with a 61-year-old woman. It is not known how she became infected.

The church said it would provide the names of all its members in South Korea, estimated by media at about 215,000 people.

The government would test them all as soon as possible, the prime minister's office said.

The authorities are testing up to 13,000 people a day.

In Japan, businesses were yesterday urged to have staff work from home, and its top-flight football division said it was postponing matches as infections hit 160.

Iran reported its Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi is among the 95 people infected.

It had three more deaths, bringing the total to 15, the highest outside China.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for calm yesterday, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.

Mr Rouhani said on state television: "We went past the tough type B influenza that has killed 16,000 in America this year and more than 100 in Iran. This coronavirus is no tougher than that."

Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centres until the end of the week.

Other countries in the region that have reported cases include Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

Italy's coronavirus spread south yesterday to Tuscany and Sicily.

Infections jumped to 283, with more than 50 new cases reported since Monday. There have been seven deaths.

Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while Sicily marked one - a tourist from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 212 people have tested positive.

Austria reported two new cases yesterday while Croatia has one.

Health ministers from some European nations were set to meet in Rome, along with the European Union's health commissioner and other international officials. - REUTERS, AFP