More than 80,000 infected by coronavirus worldwide

Matt Woodley

25/02/2020 4:17:08 PM

Hundreds of new cases outside China are ‘deeply concerning’ but do not yet represent a pandemic, the World Health Organization has said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
‘The key message that should give all countries hope, courage and confidence is that this virus can be contained,’ WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. (AAP)

Speaking after Italy, South Korea and Iran confirmed hundreds of new cases and dozens of deaths, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is time ‘for all countries’ to ensure they are ready for more cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
‘The sudden increase in new cases is certainly very concerning,’ he said.
‘The key message that should give all countries hope, courage and confidence is that this virus can be contained – indeed, there are many countries that have done exactly that.’
But despite the number of confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China rising by 26% in one day, Dr Ghebreyesus said describing the current situation as a pandemic ‘does not fit the facts’.
‘For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large scale severe disease or deaths,’ he said.
‘Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.’
Reports from the Middle East indicate the virus has already established a foothold in multiple countries, with Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq confirming cases and restricting travel to nearby Iran, which has recorded at least 12 deaths and 47 cases.
Turkey, Pakistan and Armenia have also closed their borders with Iran, where a local lawmaker has accused the government of hiding the true scale of the outbreak and suggested at least 50 people have died in the city of Qoms alone.
Scientists have also indicated the scale of the problem could be much larger than is being reported, with mathematical biologist Gergely Röst of the University of Szeged in Hungary, estimating the current rate of spread indicates there are likely 1600–2400 cases in Iran.

In Australia, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton has also warned billions of people could contract at least a mild form of the coronavirus, after Harvard University researcher Marc Lipsitch claimed 40–70% will probably become infected.
‘We don’t know what the vulnerability of the world’s population is … it might be a quarter of the world’s population but it might be 70%,’ Dr Sutton told radio station 3AW.

Victoria has recorded a seventh confirmed coronavirus case, the eighth Australian evacuee from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to test positive, but Dr Sutton stopped short of recommending major events such as the upcoming Grand Prix in Melbourne should be cancelled.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has also indicated there is a ‘strong possibility of a pandemic’ following the recent increase in global cases outside of China, but clarified there is still no sign that the virus is spreading in Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded the coronavirus outbreak represents a global health crisis, but has so far ruled out further travel bans to countries such as South Korea, which at the time of publication on Tuesday 25 February had 893 confirmed cases.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW, said sustained transmission in Australia could result in up to 70% of the population becoming infected, with potentially dire consequences.
‘[Its] case fatality rate of 2–3% is high,’ she said.
‘If 50% of Australians became infected that is 492,000 to 738,000 people dying, over three million people needing a hospital bed and over one million people needing an ICU bed.
‘We are close to a pandemic, but there is still hope the epidemics in Iran, Italy, South Korea etcetera can be controlled; however, if epidemics grow in other countries, so will the risk.’
At the time of publication 80,150 cases had been confirmed worldwide, along with more than 2700 deaths.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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