BEIJING: Fears mounted yesterday over the rise of new cases and fatalities outside China from the new coronavirus outbreak, as the World Health Organisation warned of a shrinking window to stem the spread of the deadly disease.
The warning came as the first European died from the new Covid-19 strain, which first emerged in December in central China but has now spread to over 25 countries and caused more than a dozen deaths outside the country.
A 78-year old Italian man died after testing positive for the virus, with the death toll reaching five in Iran, and a number of cases reported across the Middle East, including the first infections in Israel and Lebanon.
Italy has locked down ten towns and asked over 50,000 people to stay home — a move with echoes of China’s lockdown of entire cities in Hubei province at the centre of the outbreak.
In China, the number of cases outside Hubei, where millions remain under quarantine, has been generally declining, although new hotspots were found in several prisons and hospitals Friday.
But just 31 new cases were reported outside the central province yesterday, as the national number of cases rose past 76,000.
The outbreak has now claimed 2,345 lives in China.
Concerns have also risen about the reliability of the official data, however, after Hubei officials changed methods of counting cases and amended their figures again.
A WHO-led team of experts are set to visit Wuhan, the capital of the province, yesterday.
Meanwhile WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the “window of opportunity” to contain the international spread of the outbreak was “narrowing”, as cases surged across the Middle East and in South Korea.
He warned that if countries did not quickly mobilise to fight the spread of the virus, “this outbreak could go in any direction. It could even be messy”.
The US advised citizens to avoid travelling by cruise liner in Asia because it said the vessels acted as amplifiers of the virus.
Nearly 400 new cases were reported nationwide in China yesterday, less than half the number of new cases the previous day.
The drop in new cases of the novel coronavirus came as officials in Hubei province were ordered to revise figures to clear “doubt” around the data.
Officials retroactively revised upwards previously reported data for two days in the last week — the latest in a string of amendments to the figures officially reported at the epicentre.
Several changes in Hubei’s counting method has further complicated efforts to track the spread of the illness.
China has said the slowing cases are evidence that its drastic containment measures are working — but fresh infections emerged at two Beijing hospitals, and more than 500 others were reported in prisons across the country. – AFP