PARIS — The coronavirus epidemic shifted increasingly westward toward the Middle East, Europe and the United States on Tuesday, with governments taking emergency steps to ease shortages of masks and other supplies for front-line doctors and nurses.

“We are concerned that countries’ abilities to respond are being compromised by the severe and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment, caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse,” said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers.”

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A woman has her temperature checked and her hands disinfected as she enters the Palladium Shopping Center in northern Tehran, Iran. Iran’s supreme leader put the Islamic Republic’s armed forces on alert Tuesday to assist health officials in combating the outbreak. Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

Deaths in Italy surged to 79, making it the deadliest reported outbreak outside China. Twenty-three members of Iran’s Parliament and the head of the country’s emergency services were reported infected. South Korea expanded drive-thru testing and confirmed hundreds of new cases. And in Spain’s Basque region, at least five doctors and nurses were infected and nearly 100 health care workers were being held in isolation.

The mushrooming outbreaks contrasted with optimism in China, where thousands of recovered patients were going home and the number of new infections dropped to the lowest level in more than six weeks.

Worldwide, more than 92,000 people have been infected and over 3,100 have died, the vast majority of them in China. The number of countries hit by the virus exceeded 70, with Ukraine and Morocco reporting their first cases.

Iran’s supreme leader ordered the military to assist health officials in fighting the virus, which authorities said has killed 77 people. Among the dead are a confidant of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican and a recently elected member of Parliament.

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Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, said some people are stockpiling medical supplies for profit and urged prosecutors to show no mercy. “Hoarding sanitizing items is playing with people’s lives, and it is not ignorable,” he said.

France’s president announced the government will take control of current and future stocks of face masks to ensure they could go to health workers and coronavirus patients, and the finance minister warned that binge-shopping for household essentials could trigger shortages. The country reported a total of more than 200 cases and four deaths.

“In this period we’re going through – we have entered a phase that will last weeks and, undoubtedly, months – it is indispensable to have clarity, resilience, sangfroid and determination to stop the epidemic” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to the government’s virus crisis center.

South Korea confirmed another 142 cases Wednesday morning, raising its total to 5,328, the second-highest in the world. At drive-thru virus testing centers, workers dressed head-to-toe in white protective suits leaned into cars with mouth swabs to check for the virus. Troops sprayed disinfectant on streets and alleys across the city.

In China, the count of new cases dropped again Tuesday, with just 125 reported. It is still by far the hardest-hit country, with over 80,000 infections and about 95 percent of the world’s deaths.

“We scrutinized this data and we believe this decline is real,” said WHO outbreak expert Maria Van Kerkhove, who traveled to China as part of a team from the U.N. agency. She said the extraordinary measures taken there, including the lockdown of more than 60 million people, had a significant effect on the direction of the outbreak.

“We believe that a reduction of cases in other countries, including Italy, Korea, Iran, everywhere, that this is possible,” she said.


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