Over the past two months, China has grappled with thousands of coronavirus deaths and infections. Through January and early February, the country reported thousands of new infections each day. Though the number of new infections has declined steadily, that is not the case outside China. For the first time, the rate of infections in other countries has exceeded those reported by Beijing since the outbreak began. Is a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic now starting?
Health officials for some time now have been warning that China's coronavirus outbreak is just the "tip of the iceberg," and the outbreak is far from over. The World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized that though the outbreak is not yet a pandemic if the virus reaches a country or continent with a weak health system, it could be catastrophic.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
Rapid spread of the virus
The number of coronavirus infections is now 82,164 people across the globe, with 2,801 deaths reported since the beginning of the outbreak. China has reported declining new infections, with 412 new infections, while other countries have reported 459 new cases in the past 24 hours.
South Korea is facing a health crisis as the number of coronavirus infections has reached 1,595, with 12 deaths. Meanwhile, other hotspot countries such as Italy and Iran have reported 453 and 139 cases, respectively. The highest number of deaths outside China has been reported in Iran, with 19 deaths, followed by Italy and South Korea, with 12 deaths.
"The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said.
Meanwhile, Brazil has confirmed a coronavirus infection, the first in Latin America. Other countries have also reported their first coronavirus cases, including Greece, with one confirmed case and Pakistan with two coronavirus cases. Spain had also reported its first case.
In Italy, there were 52 new infections, and the number of infections on Tenerife, the largest of Spain's Canary Islands, off West Africa, increased to four after two more Italians who were quarantined at a hotel tested positive for the virus. In France, one more death was added to the toll, while South Korea had 284 new infections, most of whom are in Daegu.
Four new Member States have reported their first cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, including Algeria, Croatia, Switzerland, and Austria.
In the Middle East, additional countries, such as Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq, have reported their first cases, and those who had the virus came from Iran.
Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, specifically to the epicenter of the outbreak in Lombardy. Most of the cases in the country were linked to Lombardy, which has now been locked down.
In Germany, the health minister, Jens Spahn, said the country is at the start of a coronavirus epidemic since the new cases reported cannot be linked to China, the virus's source.
Meanwhile, Iran has reported the highest number of deaths outside China, with 19 deaths. It has emerged as a major hotspot with 139 cases. Some neighboring countries have announced precautionary measures to cut links and impose restrictions in the hopes of stemming the virus spread.
In total, 46 countries have reported COVID-19 cases.
Pandemic or not?
Amid the vast spread of the infection across countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak is not yet classified as a pandemic.
"The increase in cases outside China has prompted some media and politicians to push for a pandemic to be declared. We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts," Dr. Tedros said.
"Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have a significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems. It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true. We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things," Dr. Tedros said.