Police have manned checkpoints in quarantined towns, governments have issued travel warnings and more flights were suspended as officials worldwide sought to stop the seemingly inevitable spread of the new coronavirus.
Clusters of the Covid-19 illness continued to balloon outside mainland China, fuelling apprehension across the globe which was reflected in sagging financial markets.
The crisis pushed into areas seen as among the worst-equipped to deal with an outbreak as well as some of the world’s richest nations, including South Korea and Italy.
The number of people infected in Italy has increased by 45% in the last day, with the death toll rising to 11.
Italian authorities reported 322 confirmed cases of the virus – 100 more than a day earlier.
They said that some of the new cases showed up in parts of Italy well outside the country’s two hardest-hit northern regions, including three in Sicily, two in Tuscany and one in Liguria.
As it proliferates, the virus is bringing a sense of urgency for local officials determined to contain it but often unsure how.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, where the caseload grew by 144 with a total of 977 people now recorded as having the illness, said: “It’s a matter of speed and time: We must create a clear turning point within this week.”
Cases of people who could have infected many others spurred fears across the globe.
Korean Air said one of its crew members tested positive, but the airline did not disclose the flights the employee had worked on.
On a US military base in Daegu, the centre of infections in South Korea, officials said the spouse of a late service member had also been infected.
And in the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, one of those infected was a school bus driver who had transported pupils as recently as Sunday.
Also testing positive was the head of Iran’s virus task force, who just a day earlier gave a news conference in Tehran in which he tried to minimise the danger posed by the outbreak.
In Italy’s north, where more than 200 people took ill, a dozen towns were sealed off and police patrolled while wearing face masks.
Three neighbours of Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Austria, reported their first cases of the virus. And an Italian doctor staying at a hotel in Tenerife in the Canary Islands tested positive for the virus, prompting the quarantine of hundreds of guests.
Croatia, Hungary and Ireland advised against travelling to Italy’s affected area, one of a number of governmental moves seeking to limit further exposure.
Bahrain suspended flights to Dubai while the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention issued its highest travel alert on South Korea, advising citizens to avoid non-essential trips. Japan urged citizens to avoid unessential trips to South Korea’s hardest-hit areas.
A culture of long days at the office in Japan came to terms with the outbreak, with the government urging employers to allow workers to telecommute and have more flexible hours, simple moves Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe expressed hope could help control the spread.
Mr Abe said: “We are at an extremely important time in ending the spread of infection at an early stage.”
Even in places where no cases have sprouted up, leaders kept a wary eye. This includes Denmark, where two former military barracks were being prepared as quarantine centres. However, uncertainty remained about how to effectively limit the epidemic.
Italy has taken Europe’s most stringent preventative measures against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and yet it still became home to the biggest outbreak outside Asia.
Experts in Japan, with one of the world’s most sophisticated health systems, acknowledged the country’s handling of the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship was flawed and could have allowed the problem to magnify.
French health minister Olivier Veran said the country would not shut its border or call off mass gatherings.
He told French radio: “We don’t close borders because we would not be able to, we don’t do it because it would be meaningless.
“Should we ban gatherings? Should we stop the Fashion Week? Should we suspend matches? Should we close universities? The answer is no.”
China reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December. The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths.
But while China remains home to the vast majority of the world’s cases, the world’s attention increasingly moved to where the outbreak would spread next.
Iran was eyed as a source for new transmissions in the Middle East, including in Iraq, Kuwait and Oman, which were grappling with the spread past their borders.
In South Korea’s south-eastern city of Daegu and surrounding areas, panic over the virus has brought towns to an eerie standstill. The country reported its 11th fatality from Covid-19 amid signs that the problem magnified nearly 15-fold in a week.
Health officials said they were working to finish testing hundreds of members of a church that has the country’s biggest cluster of infections. The church agreed to hand over a list of 200,000 members nationwide so screenings could widen.
“We are creating and refining our system as we go along,” said Dr Kim Jin-hwan of Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Centre in Daegu.
South Korea’s professional basketball league said it will ban spectators until the outbreak is under control, while Busan City said the world team table tennis championships it planned to host in March would be postponed until June.
South Korea’s military confirmed 13 troops had contracted the virus, resulting in quarantines for many others and the halting of field training.