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Numbers of Covid-19 cases soar in South Korea, Chinese prisons, more die in Iran

People wearing masks walk past a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai.
People wearing masks walk past a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Two more people have died from the coronavirus in Iran, the number of those infected has doubled in South Korea, and there has been a spike in infections inside Chinese prisons, rekindling concerns about an epidemic that has killed more than 2,200 people in China.

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The World Health Organization warned nations could face a serious problem if they fail to "hit hard now" against the virus, which has infected more than 75,000 in China and more than 1,100 abroad.

China has pointed to official figures showing new cases slowing this week as evidence that its containment measures are working. However fresh infections emerged at two Beijing hospitals and more than 500 others were reported in prisons across the country.

Chinese authorities have placed tens of millions of people under quarantine in central Hubei province, as well as restricting movements in other cities far from the epicentre, and closing schools nationwide.

Peak of grim and complex epidemic still to come

At a Politburo meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, the leadership said that the epidemic's peak has not yet arrived, and the situation in Hubei and Wuhan remains grim and complex, according to state media.

Many nations have banned travellers from China and airlines have suspended flights to and from the country.

Nonetheless, outbreaks continue to emerge, and 13 people have now died outside mainland China.

The slow global spread of a potential killer

Iran's health ministry reported two more deaths among 13 new cases of coronavirus in the country, bringing the total number of fatalities to four and infections to 18.

In South Korea, the number of cases nearly doubled to 204, making it the worst-hit country outside China.

Two Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship have tested positive for coronavirus on their return home, despite being cleared in Japan.

The Lebanon health ministry has announced the country's first coronavirus case. The patient is a 45-year-old woman who recently visited Iran. Two other suspected cases are being investigated.

Ukraine's health minister has volunteered to spend two weeks in quarantine with 72 nationals who have been confined after being evacuated from China.

On Thursday, protesters blocked roads and hurled stones at vehicles carrying the evacuees and it took hundreds of police in armoured vehicles to disperse them.

An Israeli also tested positive upon returning home - becoming his country's first Covid-19 case.

The cases will fuel questions about Tokyo's policy of allowing former Diamond Princess passengers to return home after testing negative.

Two former passengers, both Japanese and in their 80s, died in Japan on Thursday.

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