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Virus Crisis Shifting Westward As Kazakhstan Shuts Ports To Iranian, Azerbaijani Ships

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An Iranian medic treats an infected patient sick with the COVID-19 virus at a hospital in Kermansha on March 3.

As the COVID-19 virus crisis ebbs in China, it is shifting increasingly westward to areas in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.

Clusters of the new coronavirus have emerged in South Korea, Iran, Italy, and Japan.

Iran on March 3 reported a total of 2,336 confirmed cases and 77 fatalities. Twenty-three members of Iran’s parliament and the head of the country’s emergency services were reported to have been infected.

Kazakhstan closed its Caspian Sea ports of Aktau and Kuryk to ships carrying passengers from Iran and Azerbaijan to prevent the spread of the pathogen, the Central Asian nation's government said on March 4.

Deaths in Italy climbed to 79, making it the deadliest reported outbreak outside China, where the virus originated in December.

South Korea, with a total of 5,328 cases reported on March 4, is limiting human contact by introducing drive-thru testing.

And Ukraine and Morocco recorded their first cases on March 3.

Mostly Muslim Tajikistan asked its citizens on March 4 to avoid attending mosques for Friday Prayers as a precaution, though the Central Asian nation hasn't reported any cases of the virus.

There was no blanket ban on mosque attendance, according to a spokesman for the state committee on religious affairs, but several imams have asked for the measure.

Worldwide, more than 92,000 people have fallen ill and over 3,100 people have died, with China accounting for about 95 percent of them.

The death toll in the United States rose to nine on March 3 and more then 100 people have the infection across at least 15 states. Seattle, Washington has emerged as a cluster with all the deaths occurring there.

“What is happening now in the United States may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” said Nancy Messionnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most cases have been mild.

A $7.5 billion emergency bill to fund the U.S. government’s response to the outbreak is making its way through Congress.

Still, frustration has been mounting over lack of access to coronavirus tests in the United States. CDC kits delivered to states and cities in January proved faulty by providing inconclusive results.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn told Congress that testing kits should be available by the end of the week and would give labs the capacity to perform about 1 million coronavirus tests.

As of March 3, only 54 state and local labs were able to conduct tests, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

With reporting by the BBC, CNN, AP, and Reuters
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