A huge screen about precautions against the COVID-19 is seen in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. South Korea…
A huge screen about precautions against the COVID-19 is seen in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 23, 2020.

South Korea announced Monday 231 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total cases to 833. Officials also confirmed two more deaths, bringing its death toll to seven.

Before the new cases were reported Monday, the country raised the alert level to red, the highest level, and President Moon Jae-in urged officials to not hesitate to take "unprecedented powerful measures" to contain the outbreak.

"The next few days will be crucial," following a government meeting on the virus. Under the alert level, authorities have the power to close schools and limit public transportation. The start of the new school year has been delayed one week.

Apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, South Korea has the most infections outside of China.

A confirmed coronavirus patient is wheeled to a hospital at Chuncheon, South Korea, Feb. 22, 2020.

China reported 409 new infections Monday, pushing its total number of cases past 77,000.  The vast majority of the new cases were in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.  China also reported 150 new deaths, bringing its overall toll to 2,592.

Outside China, more than 2,000 people have been infected with the virus and more than two dozen have died.

Iranian state television reported Monday the death toll there from the virus has risen to 12.

Kuwait reported three cases Monday, while Bahrain reported its first case.

In Italy, officials began using the kind of containment measures that were previously seen only in China, as the number of deaths reached four on Monday.

All Carnival events have been called off, major soccer matches canceled and theaters have been closed, including La Scala in Milan. More than 50,000 people in northern Italian towns near Milan were told to stay home. Shops and schools were also closed.

The number of cases in Italy increased to more than 150, with 110 of them in the northern Lombardy region, its governor said Sunday.  

Authorities have so far been unable to track down the source of the virus, which surfaced last week in Codogno.

"If we cannot find 'patient zero' then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous than we thought," said Luca Zaia, the regional governor of the wealthy Veneto region.

Italy is the first European country to report that one of its citizens died from the coronavirus on Friday. A second death happened Saturday and a third on Sunday. All three were elderly people.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government is looking into "extraordinary measures" to stop further infections.

Tourists are wearing protective masks against coronavirus in Venice, Italy, Feb. 23, 2020. (S. Castelfranco/VOA)

Neighboring Austria stopped train traffic because of two suspected cases of coronavirus, and it said it may close its border. Another neighbor, Switzerland, has called for calm.

"The news from Italy is worrisome ... but it is too early to think that a wave is rolling our way," Daniel Koch, the head of the department for contagious diseases at the health office, told the SRF public broadcaster.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said he would talk with his European counterparts soon to discuss how best to cope with a possible epidemic in Europe.

"Tonight there is no epidemic in France. But there is a problematic situation at the door, in Italy, that we are watching with great attention," Veran told a news conference.

Finally, Iranian health officials reported Sunday that eight people have died from the virus, making it the highest death toll outside of China.

Iran said Saturday it has suspended religious pilgrimages to Iraq during the coronavirus surge.

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