Virus cases emerging faster globally: WHO

Street sanitisation:Workers in protective suits spraying disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a bus garage in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.APAhn Young-joon  

There are now more new cases of COVID-19 reported each day outside China than inside the hardest-hit country, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

“Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva, according to a written version of his speech.

The UN health agency put the number of new cases in China at 411 on Tuesday and those registered outside the country stood at 427.

Governments worldwide are scrambling to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) after a surge of infections in Italy, Iran and South Korea.

Iran reported 19 deaths and 139 cases. Italy saw a fresh jump with another death, bringing the toll to 12 and 374 infections. South Korea reported 284 new cases, including a U.S. soldier, as health authorities prepared to test more than 200,000 members of a church hit hardest by the outbreak. The new cases pushed the total tally to 1,261.

Mr. Tedros said the “sudden increase of cases” in those countries was “deeply concerning”, adding that a WHO team would travel to Iran this weekend to evaluate the situation.

While new case numbers and deaths are dwindling at the disease epicentre in China, the country remains by far the hardest hit.

Mr. Tedros said that as of Wednesday morning, 78,190 cases of COVID-19 had been registered in China, including 2,718 deaths.

That compares with 2,790 cases and 44 deaths reported across 37 other countries. But WHO has said the epidemic in China peaked and on February 2 and has been declining since.

Bruce Aylward, who headed a WHO-backed expert mission to China, hailed the drastic quarantine and containment measures taken by Beijing. But he told reporters in Geneva that other nations were “simply not ready”.

Mr. Tedros acknowledged that the hike in cases outside China had prompted a push for a pandemic to be declared. “We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic,” he said, stressing that such a declaration could “signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.”

Question of ‘when’ not ‘if’

Meanwhile, the U.S. warned of a pandemic..

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to prepare, saying that while the immediate risk was low, the global situation suggested a pandemic was likely. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when and how many people will be infected,” the CDC’s principal deputy director Anne Schuchat said.