Medicare now covers coronavirus testing

You may be hearing about the coronavirus (officially called 2019-novel coronavirus or COVID-19) in the news. While there isn’t a vaccine yet, Medicare is still here to help.

Part B covers certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies, and preventive services.

“>Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance)

 covers a test to see if you have coronavirus. This test is covered when your doctor or other health care provider orders it, if you got the test on or after February 4, 2020.

You usually pay nothing for Medicare-covered clinical diagnostic laboratory tests. Note: Your provider will need to wait until after April 1, 2020 to be able to submit a claim to Medicare for this test.

 To prevent the spread of this illness or other illnesses including the flu, here are some tips to follow:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Stay home when you’re sick
  • See your doctor if you think you’re ill

For more information on the coronavirus, please visit the Centers for Disease Control website.

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Prevent Medicare fraud — become an informed Medicare consumer

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Each day, you make important choices about your finances, health, privacy, and more. During National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), March 1–7, 2020, non-profit organizations and government agencies can help you protect yourself and prevent fraud by taking advantage of your rights and making better, more informed choices.

Here are some things you can do to prevent Medicare fraud and become an informed Medicare consumer:

  • Know your rights: As a person with Medicare, you have certain rights and protections to help protect you and make sure you get the health care services the law says you can get.
  • Protect your identity: Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crimes. Keep information like your Social Security Number, bank account numbers, and Medicare Number safe. Get more information on how to protect yourself from identity theft.
  • Help fight Medicare fraud: Medicare fraud takes money from the Medicare program each year, which means higher health care costs for you. Learn how to report Medicare fraud.
  • Join the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP): The SMP educates and empowers people with Medicare to take an active role in detecting and preventing health care fraud and abuse.
  • Make informed Medicare choices: Each year during the fall Open Enrollment Period (October 15–December 7), review your plan to make sure it will meet your needs for the next year. If you’re not satisfied with your current plan, you can switch during the Open Enrollment Period with the Medicare Plan Finder.

Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s NCPW page to learn more about the campaign, see which agencies and organizations are able to help you, and to find out if there are any activities happening in your area.

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In An Exchange About Coronavirus, Homeland Security Chief Gets Flu Mortality Rate Wrong

During a Senate appropriations Feb. 25 subcommittee hearing, Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, said the U.S. flu mortality rate was about the same as the current estimated global mortality rate of the coronavirus outbreak.

He made this statement during an exchange with Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) regarding what the acting secretary knew about the coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19. This C-SPAN video shows the full discussion between the two.

Kennedy first asked what the worldwide mortality rate for coronavirus is, to which Wolf responded that it was “under 2%” but that he would need to check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get the actual figure and that “it changes daily.” The Louisiana senator then asked, “What’s the mortality rate for influenza over, say, the last 10 years in America?”

Wolf answered: “It’s also right around that percentage as well. I don’t have that offhand, but it’s right around 2% as well.”

We asked the Department of Homeland Security where Wolf’s figure came from.

A DHS spokesperson said in an email, “As the acting secretary said in his hearing, he did not have that information on hand and refers to Health and Human Services — the federal agency in charge of the federal government’s coronavirus response.”

Comparing mortality rates between the coronavirus and flu seemed like an important mechanism for understanding the growing concern about the reach of coronavirus, so we decided to dig deeper to find out if these statistics hold up. We also asked experts to explain what the numbers mean in terms of risk.

Digging Into Mortality Rate Numbers

The CDC directed us to its online influenza resources and referred us to the World Health Organization for more information on coronavirus.

Christopher Mores, a global health professor at George Washington University, helped make sense of some figures. He calculated the average, 10-year mortality rate for flu using CDC data and found it was 0.1%. That 0.1% rate is frequently cited among experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, called it “sort of the canonical seasonal influenza mortality figure.”

It’s important to note that, although this percentage seems like a small number, influenza is responsible for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 deaths annually.

Now, for coronavirus.

According to statistics released Feb. 17 by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mortality rate for coronavirus was 2.3%. That’s based on cases reported through Feb. 11 and calculated by dividing the numbers of coronavirus-related deaths at the time (1,023) by the number of the confirmed cases (44,672) of the coronavirus.  (These numbers reflect the information available at the time of the secretary’s testimony.)

But this report has limitations, Mores said, including the vague way Chinese officials are defining who has been infected by the coronavirus.

“We have not been able to understand what precisely has gone on there,” said Mores. “They have changed their case definitions multiple times. It’s murky what has gone into the case count and who has gone into being counted on cases.”

The WHO said in a press conference Monday that in Wuhan, China, the city where the virus emerged, the mortality rate ranged from 2% to 4%. Officials said that in the rest of China, outside of Wuhan, the mortality rate of coronavirus is 0.7%.

Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the mortality rate in China has since risen to 0.9%.

Right now he doesn’t see a similarity in the flu mortality rate and the coronavirus mortality rate. “We don’t have any evidence to that being the case,” said Osterholm.

Mores said U.S. health officials just don’t have enough information to know whether the two mortality rates are similar. Understanding this comparison would offer a means to better understand the severity of the coronavirus. It could also help in educating the public about the novel illness.

“Until we can gain our own experience with this virus, it’s going to be pretty squishy. So, all the numbers that you have come across here are within the range of possibility,” he said. “Absolutely, the hope is we will end up with something similar to the flu, but we just don’t know yet.”

Multiple experts told us that the number of coronavirus cases not just in China but worldwide has probably been undercounted because many people with the infection do not suffer serious symptoms and may not seek medical treatment. It is possible that only those who have tested positive are being counted as “confirmed cases.”

Until the case definition is expanded to include people clinicians think may have COVID-19 but who were not tested for it, they said, the total estimated number of cases will remain lower than the likely reality. But, if the number of cases widens to include those with mild symptoms who have not been tested, then the mortality rate will go down.

This is the way mortality rates are calculated for the flu, said Mores. The numbers of flu illnesses and deaths are estimates based not only on positive flu tests, but also on doctors’ suspicions and symptomatic diagnosis.

One key difference between the flu and the coronavirus illness, Osterholm cautioned, is that, with the flu, the population has a partially built-up immunity, whether through receiving flu shots or already having been exposed to the illness.

Mores concurred. “You know, the risk is this: We have a brand-new virus in a completely naive population on Earth; we’re all susceptible to it. Everyone is potentially infectable with this virus,” he said. “Even with a high transmission rate and the low case fatality rate, that still becomes a massive number of ill and fatal cases.”

Our Ruling

There are two ways to parse out this claim: First, is it true that the average U.S. mortality rate for flu is 2%?

That’s not true, according to data from the CDC and exchanges with multiple global health experts. On average, the flu mortality rate during the past 10 years has been 0.1%. In addition, Wolf and a DHS spokesperson admitted that the acting secretary did not have the statistics in front of him when he answered questions at the hearing about the mortality rates.

Second, is it true the COVID-19 mortality rate is similar to the flu mortality rate?

Wolf is also wrong on that account, based on the limited information currently known about the coronavirus. Recent data from the Chinese government set the COVID-19 mortality rate at 2.3%. That’s vastly different from the flu’s mortality rate of 0.1%.

Experts also said that while it’s possible the mortality rate from the new virus could come close to the flu’s mortality rate eventually ― if the case definition of coronavirus were expanded — it’s too soon to make that assumption with the limited information available.

For these reasons, we rate the claim False.

Source List:

C-SPAN, “Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request,” Feb. 25, 2020.

The Washington Post, “Trump’s DHS head has a brutal exchange on coronavirus — courtesy of a GOP senator,” Feb. 25, 2020.

Email exchange with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Public Affairs, Feb. 26, 2020.

Email exchange with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of the Associate Director for Communications, Feb. 28, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Influenza,” page last reviewed Jan. 27, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2018–2019 influenza season,” page last updated Jan. 8, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 COVID-19,” page last updated Feb. 14, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Disease Burden of Influenza,” page last updated Jan. 10, 2020.

Phone interview with Christopher Mores, a professor of global health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Feb. 27, 2020.

Email exchange with Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Feb. 26, 2020.

Phone interview with Michael Osterholm, Regents professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Feb. 27, 2020.

Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Vital Surveillances: The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020,” Feb. 17, 2020.

JAMA, “Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China,” Feb. 24, 2020.

World Health Organization, “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Press Conference 24 February 2020,” Feb. 24, 2020.

Email exchange with Yanzhong Huang, a professor and director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University and senior fellow for global health studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 26, 2020.

Email exchange with Ian Lipkin, John Snow professor and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, Columbia University, Feb. 26, 2020.

The Washington Post, “White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert resigns,” April 10, 2018.

The Washington Post, “Top White House official in charge of pandemic response exits abruptly,” May 10, 2018.

The Washington Post Health 202, “President Trump made it harder to fight coronavirus by actions he took two years ago,” Feb. 27, 2020.

Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security,” November 2019.

Democratic Senators’ Letter to National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, “021320 NSC Novel Coronavirus Letter,” Feb. 13, 2020.

Politico, “Lawmakers spar with Trump team over coordinating coronavirus response,” Feb. 26, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Transcript for the CDC Telebriefing Update on COVID-19,” Feb. 26, 2020.

Politico, “Trump puts Pence in charge of coronavirus response,” Feb. 26, 2020.

Politico, “White House announces coronavirus ‘coordinator’ to lead response under Pence,” Feb. 27, 2020.

The White House press release, “Vice President Pence Announces Ambassador Debbie Birx to Serve as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator,” Feb. 27, 2020.

KHN Morning Briefing, “Trump To Assemble U.S. Task Force To Tackle Coronavirus; Top Health Officials Reiterate Americans Are At Low Risk,” Jan. 30, 2020.

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World ‘in uncharted territory’ as coronavirus spreads: WHO

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – Coronavirus is now spreading much more rapidly outside China than within the country, leading the world into uncharted territory, but the outbreak can still be contained, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Almost nine times as many cases had been reported in the past 24 hours beyond China than inside, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that the risk of coronavirus spreading was now very high at a “global level”.

He said outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan were the greatest concern, but that there was evidence surveillance methods were working in South Korea, the worst affected country outside China, and the epidemic could be contained there.

“We are in uncharted territory – we have never seen before a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission but at the same time which can also be contained with the right measures,” he told a news briefing in Geneva.

The fight against the coronavirus should become a bridge for peace, Tedros said, commending the United States for supporting sending medical aid to Iran despite the tensions between them.

Finance ministers of the G7 group of leading industrialized democracies were expected to hold a conference call on Tuesday to discuss measures to deal with the economic impact, three sources told Reuters.

World stock markets regained some calm as hopes for global interest rate cuts to soften the economic blow steadied nerves after last week’s worst plunge since the 2008 financial crisis.

The global death toll was up to 3,044, according to a Reuters tally. A senior U.S. official said he was concerned the numbers in the United States, currently at more than 75 confirmed cases and two deaths, could jump in coming weeks.

“When you have a number of cases that you’ve identified and they’ve been in the community for a while, you’re going to wind up seeing a lot more cases than you would have predicted,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious diseases unit at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told CNN.

The number of available test kits will be ramped up in the next few weeks, officials said. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the risk to Americans was still very low.

South Korea has had 26 deaths and reported another 599 infections on Monday, taking its tally to 4,335 following Saturday’s biggest daily jump.

Of the new cases in South Korea, 377 were from the city of Daegu, home to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which most of South Korea’s cases have been traced after some members visited China’s Wuhan city where the disease emerged.

The Seoul government asked prosecutors to launch a murder investigation into leaders of the church. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said that if founder Lee Man-hee and other heads of the church had cooperated, fatalities could have been prevented.

“The situation is this serious and urgent, but where are the leaders of the Shincheonji, including Lee Man-hee, the chief director of this crisis?” Park said on Facebook late on Sunday.

Lee knelt and apologized to the country on Monday that one church member had infected many others, calling the epidemic a “great calamity”. “We did our best but were not able to stop the spread of the virus,” Lee told reporters.

It was not immediately known how many of South Korea’s dead were directly connected to the church.

‘OUTBREAKS ARE CURBED’

Wuhan, at the center of the epidemic in Hubei province, shut the first of 16 specially built hospitals, hurriedly put up to treat people with the virus, after it discharged its last recovered patients, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

News of the closure coincided with a steep fall in new cases in Hubei, but China remained on alert for people returning home with the virus from other countries.

“The rapid rising trend of virus cases in Wuhan has been controlled,” Mi Feng, a spokesman for China’s National Health Commission, told a briefing.

“Outbreaks in Hubei outside of Wuhan are curbed and provinces outside of Hubei are showing a positive trend.”

The virus broke out in Wuhan late last year and has since infected more than 86,500 people, mostly in China.

Lee Man-hee, founder of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, makes a deep bow during a news conference at its facility in Gapyeong, South Korea, March 2, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS

Tracking the coronavirus here

Outside China, it has in recent days spread rapidly, now to 53 countries, with more than 6,500 cases and more than 100 deaths.

The death toll in Italy, the hardest hit European country, has jumped to 52 from 18 and the number of cases to more than 2,000 from 1,694, the Civil Protection Agency said on Monday.

The vast majority of Italy’s cases are in the wealthy northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna, although on Monday authorities in Rome said two people there had tested positive as well.

Another of the worst-hit nations, Iran, reported infections rising to 1,501 on Monday, with 66 deaths, including a senior official. With stocks of gloves and other medical supplies running low in pharmacies, authorities uncovered a stash of hoarded supplies including millions of gloves.

Latvia, Saudi Arabia and Senegal reported their first cases. In Britain, which has 36 confirmed cases, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to be prepared for further spread of the virus.

ECONOMIC DAMAGE

Global factories took a beating in February from the outbreak, with activity in China shrinking at a record pace, surveys showed, raising the prospect of a coordinated policy response by central banks.

The global spread has forced the postponement of festivals, exhibitions, trade fairs and sports events. It has crippled tourism, retail sales and global supply chains, especially in China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Middle East airlines have lost an estimated $100 million so far due to the outbreak and governments should help the carriers through this “difficult period”, an official of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.

Global airlines stand to lose $1.5 billion this year due to the virus, he added.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the outbreak was pitching the world economy into its worst downturn since the global financial crisis, urging governments and central banks to fight back.

Slideshow (16 Images)

The S&P 500 .SPX index tumbled 11.5% last week. Roughly $4 trillion has been wiped off the value of U.S. stocks.

It and other U.S. stock indexes rose on Monday with investors hoping that monetary stimulus from central banks would help tide over the potential economic impact.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Hyonhee Shin and Jack Kim in Seoul, Ju-min Park in Gapyeong, Ryan Woo, David Stanway, Se Young Lee, Emily Chow and Andrew Galbraith in Beijing, Leigh Thomas in Paris, Michelle Price in Washington, Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Jonathan Cable in London, Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong and Grant McCool in Washington; writing by Nick Macfie and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Mark Heinrich

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Six dead of coronavirus in Seattle area, U.S. officials scramble to prepare for more cases

(Reuters) – Six people in the Seattle area have died of illness caused by the new coronavirus, health officials said on Monday, as authorities across the United States scrambled to prepare for more infections, with the emphasis on ratcheting up the number of available test kits.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief health officer for Seattle and King County Public Health agency, announced the increase in fatalities from the previous two in Washington state. He told a news conference that the county was not recommending school closures or cancellation of any events at this point, but they do expect the increase in cases to continue.

The total number of cases in Washington state was now at 18. Five of the deaths were in King County and one from Snohomish County, also in the Puget Sound region just north of Seattle.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state has one confirmed case, welcomed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowing New York to test for the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide since it emerged in China in December.

“I would like to have a goal of 1,000 tests per day capacity within one week because again the more testing the better,” Cuomo said at a briefing on Monday.

Federal health officials have said the number of test kits for coronavirus would be radically expanded in coming weeks. The United States appeared poised for a spike in cases, partly because there would be more testing to confirm infections.

The number of cases in the United States as of March 1 had risen to 91, according to the CDC. There has been a jump in presumed cases reported by the states to 27 from seven. The CDC will confirm the tests sent by states with their own diagnostics. So far, 10 states including California and New York have confirmed or presumed coronavirus cases.

Protective gear and test kits were being distributed to U.S. military facilities with a priority on distribution to the Korean Peninsula, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said at a briefing.

People wearing masks arrive at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, in Kirkland, Washington, U.S. March 2, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

South Korea is one of the hardest hit countries with 4,335 cases and 26 deaths.

U.S. government military laboratories were working to develop a vaccine, Milley said.

President Donald Trump said his administration has asked pharmaceutical companies to accelerate work on the development of a coronavirus vaccine, but provided no details.

Top U.S. health officials have said any vaccine is up to 18 months away and there is no treatment for the respiratory disease, although patients can receive supportive care.

Trump and his task force on the outbreak will meet with drug company executives on Monday afternoon. Executives from GlaxoSmithKline Kline Plc (GSK.L), Sanofi SA (SASY.PA), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) will attend the meeting, according to representatives for the companies.

The White House is also expected to meet this week with top executives from U.S. airlines and the cruise industry over the impact of the virus to their businesses, two people briefed on the matter said.

There have been more than 87,000 cases worldwide and nearly 3,000 deaths in 60 countries, the World Health Organization said. The global death toll was up to 3,044, according to a Reuters tally.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious diseases unit at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said he was concerned the number of U.S. cases could jump in coming weeks.

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“When you have a number of cases that you’ve identified and they’ve been in the community for a while, you’re going to wind up seeing a lot more cases than you would have predicted,” he told CNN.

The U.S. Congress is expected to take up a spending measure in coming days that could allocate billions more dollars for the virus response.

World stock markets, after a week-long slide, on Monday regained a measure of calm amid hope of a possible stimulus, while U.S. stocks were up around 3%. [MKTS/GLOB]

Reporting by Steve Holland, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Makini Brice, David Morgan, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington, Michael Erman and Caroline Humer in New York and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas rolled out bans on big gatherings and stricter travel restrictions as cases of the new coronavirus spread around the world.

The United States on Saturday reported its first death from the disease, a man in his 50s in Washington state, where officials said two of the state’s three cases have links to a nursing home with dozens of residents showing disease symptoms.

Although most Americans face a low risk from the virus, more U.S. deaths could be imminent following the nation’s first, CNN quoted Vice President Mike Pence as saying.

“We know there will be more cases,” Pence told CNN’s Jake Tapper in a clip released on Saturday, echoing President Donald Trump’s earlier comments that additional cases in America were “likely.”

Travelers from Italy and South Korea would face additional screening, Trump and top officials told a White House news briefing, warning Americans against traveling to coronavirus-affected regions in both countries.

Pence said an entry ban on travelers from Iran would be expanded to include any foreign nationals who have visited Iran in the last 14 days.

The United States may also restrict travel on its southern border with Mexico, officials said. However, they encouraged Americans to travel around the country, including states that have recorded some of its more than 60 cases.

The outbreak is disrupting flight demand and many airlines have suspended or modified services in response. After Saturday’s press conference, the White House held a call with airlines to discuss new travel restrictions.

American Airlines Inc said late on Saturday it was suspending all U.S. flights to Milan.

NEW CASES

Ecuador on Saturday reported its first case, in a woman who had traveled from Madrid, while Mexico reported four cases, all in people who had visited Italy.

Brazilian officials confirmed that country’s second case, a patient in São Paulo who recently visited Italy.

As governments worldwide stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus, France announced a temporary ban on public gatherings with more than 5,000 people in confined spaces. It reported 16 new cases for a total of 73, and canceled a half-marathon of 40,000 runners scheduled for Sunday.

Switzerland said it is banning events expected to draw more than 1,000 people.

More than 700 tourists remain quarantined at a hotel in the Canary Islands, after several Italian guests there tested positive for coronavirus.

Schools and universities in Italy, which is experiencing Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease, will stay closed for a second consecutive week in three northern regions. The country has reported more than 1,100 cases and 29 deaths.

A child wearing a face mask sits in a shopping trolley inside a shop, as the country is hit by a novel coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, China March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

Analysts have warned that the outbreak looks set to shunt Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years, with many businesses in the wealthy north close to a standstill and hotels reporting a wave of cancellations.

FOCUS ON IRAN

Iraq reported five new cases of the disease, bringing its total to 13, and Qatar reported its first Saturday, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only Gulf state not to have signaled any coronavirus cases.

The majority of infections in other Gulf countries have been linked to visits to Iran or involve people who have come into contact with people who had been there.

Armenia reported its first infection on Sunday, in a citizen returning from neighboring Iran.

Tehran has ordered schools shut until Tuesday and extended the closure of universities and a ban on concerts and sports events for a week. Authorities have also banned visits to hospitals and nursing homes as the country’s case load hit nearly 600.

One Iranian lawmaker, elected in Feb. 21 polls, has died from the disease along with more than 40 other Iranians, and several high-ranking officials have tested positive for the virus.

Azerbaijan said on Saturday it had closed its border with Iran for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Two Azerbaijanis who traveled to Iran have tested positive for the disease and quarantined.

Mainland China reported 573 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Feb. 29, up from 427 the previous day, national health officials said on Sunday in China. The number of deaths stood at 35, down from 47 the previous day, taking the toll in mainland China to 2,870.

Slideshow (12 Images)

The epidemic, which began in China, has killed almost 3,000 people worldwide, the ministry said.

Thailand reported its first death from the virus on Sunday, while in Australia, a former passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan died in the western city of Perth.

Churches closed in South Korea as many held online services instead, with authorities looking to rein in public gatherings, as 376 new infections took the tally to 3,526 cases.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Julia Harte; Additional reporting by Reuters reporters worldwide; Writing by Heather Timmons; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Clarence Fernandez

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Iran’s coronavirus death toll jumps to 54, with 978 infected

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 54, Health Ministry spokesman told state TV, adding that the number of people infected had reached 978.

FILE PHOTO: Members of the medical team spray disinfectant to sanitize indoor place of Imam Reza’s holy shrine, following the coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran February 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

Iran has had the highest number of deaths from the coronavirus outside of China, where the outbreak originated, and several countries in the region have reported infections among people who traveled to the Islamic Republic.

“There were 385 new cases of infected people in the last 24 hours, increasing the total number to 978. The death toll is 54,” spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said, calling on Iranians to avoid any unnecessary trips and stay at home.

Some neighboring countries have closed their borders with several countries stopping flights.

Iran will put together approximately 300,000 teams, starting on Tuesday, to perform door-to-door coronavirus screening, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on state TV on Sunday.

Dependants and some staff are being evacuated from the British embassy in Tehran as of March 1 due to coronavirus but essential staff will remain, Britain’s Foreign Office said on Sunday as part of a travel advisory for Iran posted online.

“As of 1 March, dependants and some staff from the British Embassy are being withdrawn from Iran due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain,” the advisory said.

“In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy to provide assistance to British nationals from within Iran may be limited.”

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have allocated facilities across the country to help to eradicate the virus, a Guards commander told a televised news conference on Sunday.

“We have set up centers across the country to help people to tackle the virus … we need national cooperation to tackle this crisis. People should follow our health officials’ advice,” said the commander, who was not named by Iran’s Press TV.

The spread of the virus in Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, has prompted growing anxiety among Iranians and concern in some quarters over the clerical establishment’s response.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by David Goodman and Ros Russell

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