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28 February, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 27 February, 2020 11:01:42 PM
COVID-19 outbreak

WHO urges swift moves as epidemic at ‘decisive point’

AFP, Geneva
WHO urges swift moves as epidemic at ‘decisive point’

The new coronavirus epidemic is at a "decisive point" globally, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday, urging affected countries to "move swiftly" to contain the disease. "We're at a decisive point," Tedros told reporters in Geneva. Pointing to a decline in new cases in China, Tedros said: "It's what's happening in the rest of the world that's now our greatest concern".

Urging countries at the early stages of the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease to "move swiftly", he added: "If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus, you can prevent people getting sick, you can save lives." Tedros emphasised that all countries should ensure that their health systems were prepared for an outbreak.

China is no longer the only breeding ground for COVID-19 as countries worry about possible contagion from other hotbeds of infection, including Iran, South Korea and Italy. There are now more daily cases being recorded outside China than inside the country, where the virus first emerged in December, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 2,700 people have died in China and some 78,000 have been infected. The outbreak has spread to dozens of other countries, where there have been more than 50 deaths and 3,600 cases, raising fears of a pandemic.

Jitters over the epidemic have rocked global markets, while sports matches and festivals across Europe have been cancelled.

The US and South Korea on Thursday postponed forthcoming joint military exercises because of the outbreak, while Japan's prime minister called for schools to close nationwide for several weeks.

President Emmanuel Macron said France, the world's most visited country, was preparing for a jump in coronavirus cases.

"We are facing a crisis, an epidemic that is coming," he said during a visit to a hospital

in Paris where the first French person carrying the virus died Tuesday. But President Donald Trump has played down fears of a major outbreak in the United States, the world's largest economy.

"I think that there's a chance that it could get worse, a chance it could get fairly substantially worse, but nothing's inevitable," Trump told reporters Wednesday.

His comments contradicted US health officials who urged Americans to be ready to cancel mass gatherings and work from home. There are 60 cases in the US so far.

The US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said it had detected the first case of unknown origin in the country, signalling that the virus may be spreading within communities.

In neighbouring Iran, the health ministry reported seven new deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the overall toll to 26, the highest outside China.

Tehran imposed domestic travel restrictions for confirmed or suspected cases and slapped curbs on visits to major Muslim pilgrimage sites, while Iran's neighbours have shut their borders.

Several governments have also advised against travel to Italy -- which has 400 cases and 12 deaths, and South South Korea, which has almost 1,600 cases, the highest number outside China.

Even China -- which sealed off an entire province and shut down cities across the country to contain the virus -- is now worried about importing cases and ordered people arriving in Beijing from affected countries to go into 14-day self-quarantine.

But UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced concern Thursday about the widespread use of quarantine, and said the epidemic had "set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity".

The virus is believed to have originated in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where it is suspected of having hopped from animal to human.

China reported 29 more deaths Thursday -- its lowest daily tally since January -- and 433 new cases, most of them in hard-hit Hubei province and well below massive increases from just a week ago.

Zhong Nanshan, a respected scientist who advises the government, said China would have had far fewer cases if action had been taken as early as December -- a rare critique from a prominent insider.

Hubei officials have been accused of initially covering up the outbreak and silencing a whistleblowing doctor who later died from the disease.

Nevertheless, Zhong said he expected China to bring the epidemic under control by late April. But other countries have now become sources of concern.

In Latin America's first case, the 61-year-old patient had travelled to Italy's Lombardy region, the epicentre of the outbreak there.

In Romania, a man was infected after coming in contact with a visiting Italian. Countries from Denmark to Spain and Algeria have also reported infections linked to Italy.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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