KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — The world is quickly approaching a tipping point in the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the disease currently outpacing efforts to contain it, experts said.
Some of the countries most affected are “scrambling” to halt the progress of Covid-19, which has seen South Korea being placed on red alert, lockdowns in Italy, and the closing of educational centres in Iran.
To make matters worse, some clusters of the new virus have shown no links to China, the centre of the outbreak, giving experts an even harder time to contain it: how did the patients get infected in the first place?
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that the time for containing Covid-19 was running out, noting that “extremely concerning developments” were observed in countries outside of China.
“The tipping point after which our ability to prevent a global pandemic ends seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours,” the Covid-19 authority said in a report by The Guardian yesterday.
World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously said the international community needed to act swiftly before the narrowing “window of opportunity” closed completely.
A similar view was echoed by Malaysian infectious diseases specialist Dr Christopher Lee, who raised concern about the rise of new epicentres outside Wuhan, China, as he noted that some coronavirus cases in countries around the world were not linked to travelling to China or from having met someone who tested positive for the virus.
Hunter reportedly said that the South Korean epidemic — which jumped to 763 as of yesterday, and killed six — has been unprecedented so far, while a large cluster of at least 150 cases and three deaths in Italy, Europe’s first major outbreak, is just as worrisome.
He also warned that the situation in Iran — which has reported eight deaths and 43 infections from Covid-19 — could have major implications for the Middle East, referring to armed conflicts in the region.
The Guardian also quoted Dr Robin Thompson, a junior research fellow in mathematical epidemiology, as saying that the number of cases in Italy doubled between Friday and Saturday, which prompted a call for isolation of all cases in the area.
“Fast isolation of even mild cases in affected areas is important for preventing substantial person-to-person transmission in Europe,” he said. “It is critical that public health guidelines are followed.”
In Malaysia, 22 cases of Covid-19 have been reported by the Ministry of Health, of which 20 were “imported”, meaning they were cases with histories of travel or living overseas, particularly involving China.
Eighteen have since recovered. All are in stable condition.
At least 79,619 cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, and 3,458 deaths. The number of cases and deaths have gradually increased from the end of January until now, with the majority of them in mainland China.