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(CNB News) – South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the “highest level” as confirmed case numbers keep rising.

President Moon Jae-in said the country faced “a grave turning point”, and the next few days would be crucial in the battle to contain the outbreak.

Six people have died from the virus in South Korea and more than 600 have been infected.

Meanwhile, Italy and Iran have announced steps to try to contain worrying outbreaks of the virus.

In Italy, strict quarantine restrictions are in force in two northern “hotspot” regions close to Milan and Venice.

Around 50,000 people cannot enter or leave several towns in Veneto and Lombardy for the next two weeks without special permission. Even outside the zone, many businesses and schools have suspended activities, and sporting events have been cancelled including several top-flight football matches

Amid the growing restrictions, the last two days of the Venice Carnival, on Monday and Tuesday, were cancelled.

Italy has seen two deaths and the number of confirmed cases has risen to more than 100 – 89 of them in Lombardy.

“The contagiousness of this virus is very strong and pretty virulent,” said Lombardy’s health chief, Giulio Gallera.

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Iran’s outbreak of coronavirus has significantly worsened, with the death toll rising to eight on Sunday. The government has acknowledged 43 confirmed cases although officials have warned the virus may have spread to “all cities”.

Schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 Iranian provinces have been closed from Sunday.

The new strain of coronavirus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19. China has seen more than 76,000 infections and 2,442 deaths.

On Sunday, China’s President Xi Jinping described the outbreak as the “largest public health emergency” in the country’s recent history.

He acknowledged “shortcomings” in China’s response and said lessons must be learned.

What’s happening in South Korea?

On Sunday, health officials revealed a further leap in the number of coronavirus cases with a cluster of infections linked to a hospital and to a religious group near the south-eastern city of Daegu.

The sixth death was confirmed at the Daenam Hospital, in Cheongdo, which treats the elderly and people with mental health issues. The hospital has seen more than 110 people infected including nine medical staff.

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South Korea has seen the largest number of confirmed cases after China. An outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan has also seen more than 600 cases.

“The Covid-19 incident faces a grave turning point,” President Moon said following a meeting with ministers and experts.

“The next few days will be crucial. The government will raise the alert level to the highest level of ‘grave’ according to experts’ recommendations and drastically strengthen our response system.”

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