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Globe Braces for Long Virus Battle     02/26 06:09

   President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the urgent $2.5 billion plan for 
coronavirus he sent to lawmakers will prepare the nation in case of an outbreak 
in the U.S. and help other nations unprepared to handle the threat.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Scientists raced to find a treatment, crews 
scrubbed everything from money to buses, and quarantines were enforced 
Wednesday from a beachfront resort in the Atlantic to an uninhabited island in 
the Pacific as the world fought the spread of a new virus.

   Worries over the  ever-expanding economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis 
multiplied, with factories idled, trade routes frozen and tourism crippled, 
while a growing list of countries braced for the illness to claim new 
territory. Even the Olympics, five months away, wasn't far enough off to keep 
people from wondering if it would go on as planned.

   "We don't expect a miracle in the short term," said Kianoush Jahanpour of 
the health ministry in Iran, where an official tally of infections of 139 was 
doubted by some who thought the problem was far bigger.

   About 81,000 people around the globe were sickened by the coronavirus that 
kept finding new targets.

   In Europe, where Germany, France and Spain were among the places with a 
growing caseload, an expanding cluster of more than 200 cases  in northern 
Italy was eyed as a source for transmissions. In the Middle East, where cases 
increased in Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq, blame was directed toward Iran. In Asia, 
where the crisis originated late last year in China, threats continued to 
emerge around the region, with South Korea battling a mass outbreak centered in 
the 2.5 million-person city of Daegu.

   Though the virus pushed into countries both rich and poor, its arrival in 
places with little ability to detect, respond and contain it brought concern it 
could run rampant there and spread easily elsewhere.

   "We're going to be trying to slow down the spread so that our hospitals are 
not overwhelmed in one big gulp, one big hit," said Ian Mackay, who studies 
viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia.

   In South Korea, workers sanitized public buses, while in China, banks 
disinfected banknotes using ultraviolet rays. In Germany, authorities stressed 
"sneezing etiquette," while in the United States, doctors announced a clinical 
trial of a possible coronavirus treatment. 

   Around the world, as Christians marked the start of the holy season of Lent 
with Ash Wednesday, worshipers found churches closed and rituals changed by 
virus fears. Even in St. Peter's Square, many of those gathered for Pope 
Francis' weekly audience wore face masks and clergy appeared to refrain from 
embracing the pontiff or kissing his ring.

   Services in Singapore were broadcast online to keep people from crowded 
sanctuaries where germs could spread, bishops in South Korea shuttered churches 
for what they said was the first time in the Catholic Church's 236-year history 
there, and in Malaysia and the Philippines, ashes were sprinkled on the heads 
of those marking the start of Lent instead of using a damp thumb to trace a 
cross of ashes.

   "We would like to be cautious so that the coronavirus will not spread," said 
the Rev. Victorino Cueto, rector of the National Shrine of our Mother of 
Perpetual Help in Manila in the Philippines.

   Major gatherings were eyed warily, with organizers scrambling to respond in 
the face of the epidemic. Looming largest of all are the Olympic games, whose 
opening ceremonies are scheduled for July 24 in Tokyo. A member of the 
International Olympic Committee, Richard Pound, sounded alarms a day earlier, 
saying the virus could force a cancellation of the games. The Japanese 
government, in turn, gave mixed signals, insisting they would go forward yet 
urging that sports events now be curtailed.

   Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for major sports and cultural events in the 
coming two weeks to be canceled or postponed to stem further infections. 
Meanwhile, the top government spokesman said Olympics preparations would 
proceed and the games would go on as planned.

   Among the other crowded places that had officials worried: Military bases.

   The South Korean military announced additional infections among its troops, 
with 20 cases on its bases and some 9,570 people in isolation. The U.S. 
military, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, confirmed the first infection 
of an American soldier, a 23-year-old man based at Camp Carroll near Daegu, a 
day after Americans said a military spouse also had contracted the illness. 
Bowling alleys, movie theaters and a golf course on four American bases in the 
country were closed.

   "This is a setback, it's true, there's no getting around that. But it's not 
the end of the war," Col. Edward Ballanco, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison 
Daegu told troops in a video message. "We are very well equipped to fight this 
thing off."

   South Korea announced 284 new cases, largely in Daegu, bringing its total to 
1,261. China, still the epicenter of the crisis even as new outposts caught the 
world's attention, reported 406 new cases and 52 more deaths. The country has a 
total of 78,604 cases of the virus and 2,715 fatalities.

   China said Wednesday that those sickened by the virus included 555 prisoners 
who officials said likely became infected by guards using the same bus station 
as a nearby pulmonary hospital.

   And Indonesia said it evacuated 188 crew members from the World Dream cruise 
ship and planned to take them to remote Sebaru Island. The workers were 
released from quarantine in Hong Kong after finding no infections, but 
authorities mandated an additional observation period.


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