WHO raises global COVID-19 risk to highest level

Mexico City
Mexico City

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The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the global COVID-19 risk to its highest level today, as cases surged in three hot spots outside China, which are quickly spreading the virus to other countries, with many more—such as Nigeria and Mexico—reporting their first cases.

At a media briefing today, WHO officials said the rapid spread of the virus doesn't meet the definition of a pandemic, which would imply every human will likely be exposed. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director-general, said 24 cases in 14 countries have been exported from Italy and 97 cases in 11 countries have been exported from Iran. He said the growing number of cases and affected countries is clearly a concern.

But he urged countries not to give up hope on containing the virus, pointing to promising trends in China and Singapore that resulted from strict application of basic public health practices, such as finding and breaking transmission chains. Different scenarios are playing out in different countries, even within different countries, he said. For example, Tedros noted though there are hot spots, there are also 23 countries that still have just one case, plus a number of them with 10 or less.

Calling the epidemic a pandemic would signal a shift from containment to mitigation, WHO officials said today. Tedros said there's still a window for containment, but it is getting narrower and narrower by the day. He said there are 10 things individuals can do, such as washing hands frequently, cleaning surfaces regularly, avoiding travel while sick, and calling ahead before coming into a clinic.

In other WHO developments today, officials published a written report of the WHO-led joint mission to China and said a WHO mission to investigate Iran's outbreak is having a tough time booking travel arrangements, but with help from the United Arab Emirates hopes to arrive by Monday.

South Korea cases blow past 2,000

South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) today reported 571 new cases, raising its total to 2,337. The number of deaths remained at 13.

In China, the National Health Commission reported 327 new cases, 44 more deaths, and 394 fewer serious cases, bringing the overall respective totals to 78,824, 2,788, and 7,952.

Japan today reported 17 more cases and 2 asymptomatic carriers, lifting its total to 208 cases, though it notes an overall total of 230 cases with 22 asymptomatic carriers. One of the cases today is an asymptomatic quarantine officer.

Hokkaido, a recent hot spot, has 9 of the new cases. The others are from Sagamihara, Shizuoka, Sapporo, Ishikawa prefecture, Nagoya, and Osaka.

Also, Japan reported two more deaths in Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers, raising the total to 6. One is a man from the United Kingdom whose age wasn't listed and the other is woman in her 70s from Tokyo.

Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore reported 2 more cases, both linked to a new workplace cluster, raising its total to 98. And Malaysia reported 2 more cases, a Japanese woman who works in Malaysia who had traveled to Japan and Indonesia, and an Italian man who lives in Malaysia and recently traveled to Italy for work, the New Straits Times reported today. Malaysia now has 25 cases.

Iran reports another spike; WHO mission to visit

Iran's health ministry today reported 143 cases and 8 more deaths, raising its total to 338, which includes 34 deaths. More than 100 of the new cases are from Gilan and Qom provinces.

However, hospital sources in Iran told the BBC that the government's death total is a steep underestimate and that the real total is 210, which a government health official has denied.

In a related development, New Zealand today reported its first case, which involved a traveler from Iran. Likewise, Azerbaijan and Belarus reported their first cases, both linked to Iran travel.

And Australia reported another new case in Queensland state, which also involves a 63-year-old woman who traveled from Iran.

Since yesterday, at least three more already affected Middle East countries have reported new cases, including Bahrain, Iraq, and Kuwait, according to a Twitter update from the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean regional office.

Italy's surge continues

Italy today reported 238 more cases, boosting its total to 888. It also reported 4 more deaths, raising the fatality count to 21. Three northern regions make up 827 of the country's cases: Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia Romagna.

In related developments today, two countries far from Italy reported their first cases today, both linked to Italy travel: Nigeria and Mexico. The case in Nigeria marks the third detection in Africa, alongside Egypt and Algeria, and involves an Italian citizen working in Lagos who returned from a trip to Italy earlier this week, Nigeria Centers for Disease Control said in a statement.

Mexico has two cases, one a man in Mexico City and the other a man from Sinaloa state, one of whom had contact with someone from Italy, the Associated Press reported today, noting that at least five family contacts have been isolated.

Meanwhile, at least four more European countries reported their first cases today, all linked to Italy travel. They include Lithuania, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Iceland.

Also, already affected European countries reported more cases, including Croatia, Greece, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain.

France's total today rose by 19 cases to 57, and the country's health minister warned that the virus is circulating in the community, Reuters reported. Germany's total rose to 53, according to an update from the Robert Koch Institute. Also, Spain reported 17 more cases in two update today, putting its total at 34.

And the United Kingdom reported its first local case, raising England's total to 18, and San Marino, a small country surrounded by Italy, reported its first case, involving an 88-year-old man who had not traveled outside the country.

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