World may face pandemic as epicenters of rapidly spreading coronavirus appear outside China

February 28, 2020

COVID-19 cases inside China have for the first time been surpassed by fresh cases elsewhere this past week, with Italy and Iran emerging as epicenters of the rapidly spreading illness as well as the first reported infection in Latin America, Pakistan, Sweden, Norway, and Romania.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Chinese authorities reported 412 new cases on Tuesday, February 25, while there were almost 460 in 37 other countries.However, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised against carelessly speaking of a pandemic, which the WHO defines as the worldwide spread of a new disease.

“Using the word pandemic has no tangible benefit, but it does amplify unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyses systems,” he said. “It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.”

The coronavirus is believed to have originated in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, late last year. It has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, mostly in China. While radical quarantining measures have greatly slowed the rate of transmission in China, it is indeed spreading in the rest of the world.There have been nearly 50 deaths outside China, including 12 in Italy and 19 in Iran. Unfortunately, there is no known vaccine for the virus.

A new front line in the global outbreak, Brazil, marks Latin America’s first case – infection was confirmed in a 61-year-old man in Sao Paulo, who had recently visited Italy during the annual carnival holiday.  In addition to Brazil, Italians or recent visitors to Italy have tested positive in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Italy itself has reported more than 400 new cases, centered on the industrial heartlands of Lombardy and Veneto.

Iran has reported only 139 cases, but because of the death rate of around 2% seen elsewhere, epidemiologists think that the true number of cases must be many times higher. Cases linked to Iran have been reported across the Middle East.

US health authorities are managing about 59 cases so far, mostly Americans repatriated from a cruise ship in Japan, and warns of an impending pandemic; Germany, which has around 20 cases, said it was already impossible to trace all chains of infection within the country, and Health Minister Jens Spahn urged regional authorities, hospitals and employers to review their pandemic planning.

The panic is palpable – Mexican authorities have barred a cruise ship from docking at one of its ports over what the ship’s company said was a single case of common seasonal flu, while a hotel in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands was locked down over cases loosely linked to Italy. Additionally, a second person has died in France – the individual had not visited any country with a known outbreak.


Category: Health alert

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