KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 — The World Health Organization (WHO) warned member nations to brace for the imminent arrival of the novel coronavirus, after seven countries yesterday reported their first cases.
“Every country must be ready for its first case,” the head of the United Nations’ public health agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said during a press briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday, according to CNBC.
“No country should assume it won’t get cases. That could be a fatal mistake.
“This virus does not respect borders. It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities. It has no regard for a country’s GDP (gross domestic product) or level of development.”
The WHO director-general raised concerns about Covid-19 cases outside of China, the epicentre of the new virus. He noted that Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan, and Romania reported their first coronavirus cases yesterday.
“The epidemics in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea demonstrate what this virus is capable of,” he added, referring to the unprecedented rise in the number of new cases, some unlinkable, and deaths in the three countries.
The WHO on Wednesday said that the number of new Covid-19 cases outside China exceeded those inside the country for the first time, while American health officials that day also confirmed the first possible community transmission of the virus in the country.
In Iran, at least 26 people have died while a total of 245 people have been infected. Iran’s Covid-19 death toll is the highest outside of China. South Korea has reported 2,022 cases and 13 deaths, while at least 11 European countries have confirmed cases of the coronavirus, some of which have been traced to Italy.
Some countries have also experienced localised clusters, where there is some evidence of transmission at a community level, such as in South Korea and Japan, according to WHO’s emergencies programme executive director, Dr Mike Ryan.
Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that countries must act “swiftly” and “aggressively” to contain the virus, noting that it can be contained “with the right measures”.
He also advised countries to begin thinking about whether they have proper isolation units, medical supplies and other vital equipment, noting that their preparation will “be the difference between one case and 100 cases in the coming days and weeks”.
Ghebreyesus also reiterated that Covid-19 has the potential to be a pandemic — a term used to describe a serious disease that is spreading in an uncontrolled way globally, and which Malaysia has since labelled Covid-19 as.
The WHO has only declared the outbreak an international emergency, and not a pandemic. But it has always been urging countries to ready screening, isolation wards, and public education campaigns.
Back in Malaysia, 22 coronavirus patients have recovered and been discharged. One new positive case was confirmed in Malaysia, health officials said yesterday.