State Department blasts Russia for ‘spreading disinformation’ that America is responsible for coronavirus – as South Korea, Singapore and Iran report ‘untraceable’ new infection clusters in sign that virus spread is uncontrollable

Saturday, February 22, 2020
By Paul Martin

Russian-linked social media accounts are spreading disinformation about coronavirus, officials say
Disinformation campaign promotes unfounded conspiracy theories that US is behind the outbreak
Meanwhile, three countries reported clusters of infected patients with no traceable source vector from China
Doctors are unable to identify the source of coronavirus clusters in South Korea, Singapore and Iran
Globally there are 76,796 confirmed cases and 2,247 deaths, with most in the Chinese epicenter

22 February 2020

Thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to combat the epidemic, U.S. officials say.

The disinformation campaign promotes unfounded conspiracy theories that the United States is behind the COVID-19 outbreak, in an apparent bid to damage the U.S. image by seizing on international health concerns, they said.

Meanwhile, alarm bells were sounding as three countries reported clusters of infected patients with no traceable source vector from China, the first sign that the virus is spreading uncontrollably and could reach pandemic levels.

Doctors are unable to identify the source of coronavirus clusters in South Korea, Singapore and Iran, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

WHO officials said China’s crackdown on parts of the country bought time for the rest of the world to prepare for the new virus. But as hot spots emerge around the globe, trouble finding each source – the first patient who sparks every new cluster – might signal the disease has begun spreading too widely for tried-and-true public health steps to stamp it out.

‘A number of spot fires, occurring around the world is a sign that things are ticking along, and what we are going to have here is probably a pandemic,’ said Ian Mackay, who studies viruses at Australia’s University of Queensland.

That worst-case isn’t here yet, the WHO insists. It isn’t convinced that countries outside China need more draconian measures, but it pointed to spikes in cases in Iran and South Korea to warn that time may be running out to contain the virus.

‘What we see is a very different phase of this outbreak depending where you look,’ said WHO’s Dr. Sylvie Briand. ‘We see different patterns of transmission in different places.’

The World Health Organization defines a ‘global pandemic’ as a disease spreading on two continents, though some public health experts would call an outbreak a pandemic if the spread is over a wide area or across many international borders.

The newest red flag: Iran has reported 28 cases, including five deaths, in just days. The cluster began in the city of Qom, a popular religious destination, but it’s not clear how. Worse, infected travelers from Iran already have been discovered in Lebanon and Canada.

In South Korea, most of the hundreds of new cases detected since Wednesday are linked to a church in the city of Daegu and a nearby hospital. But health authorities have not yet found the ‘index case,’ the person among the church´s 9,000 followers who set off the chain of infections.

There also have been several cases in the capital, Seoul, where the infection routes have not yet been traced. In Europe, Italy saw cases of the new virus more than quadruple in a day as it grapples with infections in a northern region that apparently have spread through a hospital and a cafe.

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