South Korea went on high alert yesterday following a sharp jump in coronavirus cases, while Italy and Iran took their own drastic containment steps as an epidemic that has killed nearly 2,500 people in China continued a relentless global expansion.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned Africa's poor health systems left it vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease, which has spilled out of China to more than 25 countries.
South Korea is raising the nation's alert to its "highest" level, President Moon Jae-in said yesterday after the number of infections nearly tripled over the weekend to 602.
"The next few days will be crucial," Moon said following a government meeting on the virus.
South Korea reported 169 new cases and three deaths yesterday, taking the countrywide fatality toll to five. Yonhap news agency later reported a sixth death.
More than 300 cases have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect in Daegu with some 9,300 members either quarantined or asked to stay at home, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some 1,240 have reported symptoms.
Elsewhere, Italy and Iran began introducing the sort of containment measures previously seen only in China, which has put tens of millions of people under lockdown in the epicentre province of Hubei.
More than 50,000 people in about a dozen northern Italian towns near the business hub of Milan were told to stay home, while shops and schools were shuttered.
The number of cases in the country rose to more than 100. Italy became the first European country to report one of its nationals had died from the virus on Friday, followed by a second death on Saturday. Both were elderly.
China reported another 97 deaths in its daily update yesterday, taking its total to 2,442, plus 648 new infections. Nearly 80,000 people have been infected worldwide, the vast majority in China.
President Xi Jinping described the epidemic as the country's "largest public health emergency" since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
Japan yesterday reported that a third passenger from Diamond Princess cruise ship died, the health ministry said.
Iran ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 provinces from yesterday following eight deaths in the Islamic Republic -- the most outside East Asia. Iran's outbreak surfaced Wednesday and quickly grew to 43 confirmed infections.
Iran neighbors, including Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, clamped down on travel to and from Iran.