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WHO Cautions, COVID-19 Virus Not a Pandemic, Although Spread Raises Fears; Focus on Containment

Feb. 24, 2020 (EIRNS)--As the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, spreads to more countries--a spotlight is on Italy and South Korea, and concerns about Iran--there is increasing mention and fearfulness in the media and elsewhere that a global pandemic is likely. Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tried to assuage those fears today, cautioning in a Geneva press conference that it is premature to declare COVID-19 a pandemic. While it has the potential to become one, he said, the facts today don't fit the definition of a pandemic.

He stressed that countries should take courage and be confident that this virus can be contained. Indeed, he said, the focus must be on containment. The increased number of cases in Italy, Iran, and South Korea was very worrisome, Dr. Tedros acknowledged, but he reported that authorities were not yet seeing an uncontained global spread of the virus, or widespread serious cases or deaths, Reuters reported him as saying.

Here are highlights of the developing situation:

  • Italy: {South China Morning Post} reports on "drastic" action taken by authorities in northern Italy yesterday to contain the spread. Overall, 230 people are reported infected, with 6 deaths. Veneto's Regional President Luca Zaia has announced that he is cancelling all public events, including Venice's Carnival, and closing all museums and schools, markets and fairs--this in a region of 5 million inhabitants that is one of Italy's industrial engines. Similar measures are being taken in Lombardy, home to 10 million people, which includes Milan. The Lombardy Region President Attilio Fontana, of the Lega, warned that if there is a serious spread of the virus outside of the quarantined "red zone," his administraton will adopt "measures like those in Wuhan." This would include quarantining a metropolitan center such as Milan, with 2 million inhabitants.

  • Austria and Switzerland: the northern Italian situation has caused great nervousness in these countries. Citizens are being warned not to travel to northern Italy. In Switzerland, the canton of Ticino announced that its hospitals would isolate and test all patients with COVID-19-type symptoms.

  • South Korea: 833 confirmed cases and 8 deaths. President Moon Jae-in held an emergency meeting over the weekend with government officials to discuss the outbreak. He stated that "the central government, local governments, health officials and medical personnel, and the entire people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem." The majority of cases are concentrated in the southeastern city of Daegu, which is essentially under a state of emergency, the {New York Times} reports. The Atlanta Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has upped its travel warning for South Korea to level 3 ("avoid nonessential travel" -- the same status as China), and added one for Japan (level 2).

  • Iran: There are 61 confirmed cases and 12 dead, although one member of Parliament reported 50 dead. In a country subject to brutal U.S. sanctions, there are reported shortages of masks and disinfectants, local health officials report. Hospitals are overstretched.

  • Small numbers of cases are reported in Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, Egypt, and Oman. Pakistan and Turkey have temporarily closed their borders with Iran. In Afghanistan, all travel to Iran is being reduced to "essential humanitarian needs."

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