Coronavirus: WHO urges world to prepare for potential pandemic

Photo: EPA Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (R) and Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program Michael Ryan (L) at a press conference in Geneva, 24 February.

The World Health Organization on Monday said the new coronavirus epidemic had peaked in China but the surge in cases elsewhere was deeply concerning and all countries should prepare for a possible pandemic.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that the peak in China occurred between 23 January and 2 February and the number of new cases there "has been declining steadily since then”. He praised China for helping to prevent an even bigger spread of the disease through unprecedented lockdowns and quarantines in or near the outbreak's epicentre. “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, yes,” Tedros added, but “for the moment we're not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus.”

An acceleration of cases in other parts of the world has prompted countries to adopt drastic measures similar to China’s. Italy has locked down 11 towns and South Korea ordered the entire 2.5 million residents of the city of Daegu to remain indoors. The spread of the disease – officially known as COVID-19 – continued unabated with Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman announcing their first cases on Monday.

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