Coronavirus: ‘Narrowing window’ to contain outbreak, WHO says

February 2020 BBCHealth; The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern at the number of coronavirus cases with no clear link to China or other confirmed cases.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the window of opportunity to contain the virus was “narrowing”.

Chinese health authorities reported a decrease in deaths and new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday.

But cases are on the rise in South Korea, Italy, Iran and other countries.

Outside China, more than 1,200 cases of the virus have been confirmed in 26 countries and there have been eight deaths, the WHO says.

They include two deaths in South Korea, which has the biggest cluster of confirmed cases apart from China and a cruise ship quarantined in Japan.

On Saturday, South Korea reported 142 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the national tally to 346.

An evacuation flight carrying 32 British and other European passengers has taken off from Japan and is due to land in England later on Saturday.

On Friday, doctors in Italy said a 78-year-old man became the first person in the country to die from the new coronavirus, Ansa news agency reported.

Earlier Italy had announced 16 more cases and its health minister said schools and offices would be closed and sports events cancelled in the affected regions.

China has reported 76,288 cases including 2,345 deaths. The new virus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19.

What did the WHO chief say?

Dr Tedros said the number of coronavirus cases outside China was “relatively small” but the pattern of infection was worrying.

“We are concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to or contact with a confirmed case,” he said.

The new deaths and infections in Iran were “very concerning”, he said.

But he insisted that the measures China and other countries had put in place meant there was still a “fighting chance” of stopping further spread and called on countries to put more resources into preparing for possible outbreaks.

What is the latest in South Korea?

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun declared a public health emergency as the total number of cases surpassed 300 on Saturday.

The southern cities of Daegu and Cheongdo have been declared “special care zones”. The streets of Daegu are now largely abandoned.

The nation’s capital, Seoul, banned demonstrations in central areas.

Two cases were also reported in Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, and one on the Island of Jeju on Saturday – the first in both places.

All military bases are in lockdown after three soldiers tested positive.

About 9,000 members of a religious group were told to self-quarantine, after the sect was identified as a coronavirus hotbed.

The authorities suspect the current outbreak in South Korea originated in Cheongdo, pointing out that a large number of sect followers attended the funeral of the founder’s brother from 31 January to 2 February.

The sect – known as Shincheonji – which has been accused of being a cult, said it had now shut down its Daegu branch and that services in other regions would be held online or individually at home.

As of Friday, more than 400 members of the church were showing symptoms of the disease, though tests were still ongoing, the city mayor said.

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