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Rest-of-world overtakes China in daily cases as WHO expert warns countries 'simply not ready'

The virus has rapidly spread in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, even as the number of fresh cases in China declined.

Workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant in Seoul, South Korea.
Workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant in Seoul, South Korea.
Image: AP/PA Images

Updated Feb 26th 2020, 12:21 PM

GREECE IS THE latest country to record a case of Covid-19, with the person in question a 38-year-old woman who had returned from northern Italy. 

The news comes as Italy confirmed its 12th death from outbreak from a total of 374 cases, the most of anywhere outside of China. 

Significantly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) today confirmed that there were now more new daily cases of the coronavirus outside China than inside the hard-hit country, marking a shift in the outbreak.

“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.

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

The new coronavirus epidemic has swelled in recent days, with cases in South Korea surging past 1,000. Deaths also soared in Iran and infections appeared in previously untouched countries, prompting dire warnings that the world was not ready to contain it.

The virus has rapidly spread in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, even as the number of fresh cases and deaths decline at the disease epicentre in China.

Towns and cities have been sealed off in an attempt to stop the contagion, while hotels in the Canary Islands and Austria were locked down because of suspected cases.

A number of Irish nationals staying in Tenerife have made contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In Iran, which has reported 15 deaths out of nearly 100 infections, even the country’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi said he had contracted the virus.

At the World Health Organisation headquarters in Geneva, Bruce Aylward, who headed an international expert mission to China, hailed the drastic quarantine and containment measures taken by the country.

But he told reporters that other nations were “simply not ready” to contain the outbreak.

“You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale… and it has to be done fast,” Aylward said.

The virus has killed 2,715 people and infected over 78,000 in China. The number of fatalities is the lowest in three weeks and none were outside the epicentre in central Hubei province.

The National Health Commission also reported a drop in new infections to 406, with only five outside Hubei — a figure that will boost confidence that the rest of the country is containing the epidemic.

In the rest of the world, there have been more than 40 deaths and 2,700 cases.

The disease has now reached dozens of countries, with Greece, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland the latest to declare cases.

Ireland has not yet had any confirmed cases of Covid-19 but has had 90 suspected cases, with that number expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks

The epidemic’s disruption has also grown, with stock markets tumbling around the world, restrictions imposed on travellers and sporting events cancelled.

virus-outbreak-malaysia Health workers wearing full protective suits in Kuala Lumpur. Source: AP/PA Images

The WHO has called for countries to “prepare for a potential pandemic” — a term used to describe an epidemic that spreads throughout the world.

Poor countries are particularly at risk, the WHO has warned.

Fallout

Scientists are racing to find a treatment, health crews are scrubbing everything from money to buses, and quarantines are being enforced in places from a beachfront resort in the Atlantic to an uninhabited island in the Pacific as the world battles the spread of a new virus.

Concern is also growing over the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, with work at many factories halted, trade routes frozen and tourism crippled, while a growing list of countries brace for the illness to claim new territory.

Even the Tokyo Olympics, five months away, are not far enough off to keep people from wondering if they will go ahead as planned.

About 81,000 people around the globe have now been infected with Covid-19, and that number continues to increase as it spreads.

In Europe, Germany, France and Spain are among the places with a growing caseload – with an expanding cluster of more than 200 cases in northern Italy eyed as a source for those transmissions.

In Asia, where the crisis originated late last year in China, threats continue to emerge around the region, with South Korea battling a mass outbreak centred in the 2.5 million-person city of Daegu.

Though the virus has pushed into countries both rich and poor, its arrival in places with little ability to detect, respond and contain it has brought concern it could run rampant there and spread easily elsewhere. 

Iran, Italy hotspots

In the Middle East, where cases have increased in Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq, blame is being directed towards Iran amid fears the extent of the outbreak there has been underestimated.

Three more people died from the Covid-19 disease yesterday and the country has been scrambling to contain the epidemic since last week.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose country came to the brink of war with Iran earlier this year, said Washington is deeply concerned Tehran “may have suppressed vital details” about the outbreak there.

Gulf countries announced new measures to cut links with Iran in an attempt to stop the spread.

In Italy — which has reported 12 deaths and 374 cases — has locked down 11 towns and ordered Serie A football games to be played to empty stadiums.

Around the world, as Christians marked the start of the holy season of Lent with Ash Wednesday, worshippers found churches closed and rituals changed by virus fears.

Even in St Peter’s Square, many of those gathered for Pope Francis’s weekly audience wore face masks and clergy appeared to refrain from embracing the pontiff or kissing his ring.

A young man who returned to Croatia from Italy became the first case in the Balkans region.

In the United States, which has a few dozen cases, health authorities urged local governments, businesses and schools to develop plans such as cancelling mass gatherings or switching to teleworking as the country braces for the virus to spread further.

Major gatherings were eyed warily, with organisers scrambling to respond in the face of the epidemic.

Looming largest of all are the Olympic Games, with the opening ceremony scheduled for 24 July in Tokyo.

A member of the International Olympic Committee, Richard Pound, has sounded alarm this week by saying the virus could force the cancellation of the Games.

The Japanese government, in turn, gave mixed signals, insisting Olympics preparations will continue while other forthcoming sports and cultural events are curtailed.

© – AFP 2020 - with reporting by Press Association and Rónán Duffy

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