Countries throughout the globe are escalating efforts to contain an outbreak of the new coronavirus that has so far infected over 77,650 people, mainly in China.
The epicenter of the outbreak, China’s Hubei Province, had nearly 500 new confirmed cases on Monday, according to the country’s National Health Commission (NHC), marking an increase from 398 a day earlier.
The total number of infections in China now stands at 77,658, and the NHC said on Tuesday that it would continue strict control and prevention measures in Hubei.
The outbreak of the flu-like virus has spread to nearly 29 countries and territories outside mainland China, with a death toll of about two dozen.
Beijing warned its citizens on Monday against traveling to the United States, saying that Chinese tourists were being treated unfairly by American authorities due to excessive prevention measures.
Trump seeks $2.5bn to fight coronavirus
US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has asked Congress for 2.5 billion dollars to “accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies,” according to the White House on Monday.
More than 1 billion dollars of the requested funding would go toward developing a vaccine.
There have been 53 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus across the US so far – 14 in people diagnosed in the country and 39 among Americans repatriated from the outbreak’s epicenter of Wuhan and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
American and South Korean militaries are also considering scaling back joint war games amid the spread of the virus in South Korea.
Italy infections rise drastically to 220
Italy on Monday became the new front-line in the battle against the virus, with 220 reported cases, a major hike from just three on Friday. The death toll from the virus in the country stands at seven.
Italian authorities have sealed off the worst-affected towns, shut down schools, and halted the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases. An air transport strike planned for Tuesday in Italy has also been delayed until further notice.
France blocked coach passengers coming from Milan on Monday over concerns that one Italian on board might have be infected. However, a French minister insisted on Monday that he saw no need to shut transport borders between France and Italy.
Ireland also warned its citizens against traveling to the virus-hit parts of Italy.
Third case detected in Spain
Reports said one Italian man had tested positive in Spain, becoming the third confirmed case in the country.
In South Korea, the number of the coronavirus infections also surged to 893 on Tuesday, as health authorities said they planned to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the epicenter of the outbreak in the country.
Hong Kong’s government cautioned residents on Monday to avoid all non-essential travel to South Korea.
In Japan, 773 cases of the virus were confirmed as of late Sunday, mostly on the cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo.
In West Asia, the countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan, and Iraq reported their first virus cases, while in Iran, 95 infections were reported – mostly in the holy city of Qom – with 15 cases leading to death.
Qatar Airways, meanwhile, announced on Monday that it would ask passengers from Iran and South Korea to remain in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days.
Airlines across the world have been suspending flights or modifying services in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
WHO insists coronavirus outbreak containable
Meanwhile, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the coronavirus outbreak could still be beaten, insisting that it was premature to declare it a pandemic even though it had the potential to reach that level.
“The key message that should give all countries hope, courage, and confidence is that this virus can be contained. Indeed, there are many countries that have done exactly that,” he said during a Monday press conference in Geneva.
“Using the word ‘pandemic’ now does not fit the facts but may certainly cause fear,” Tedros said. “We must focus on containment while doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic.”
He further said that sudden increases of cases in South Korea, Italy, and Iran were “deeply concerning” but for now authorities were not witnessing an uncontrolled global spread of the virus.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has,” Tedros added. “Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”
Moreover, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on countries to help prevent the epidemic from spiraling into a crisis with “dramatic consequences” for global health and the world economy.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the WHO center for managing emergencies, Guterres also called for fully funding WHO’s appeal of 675 million dollars to cover its overall response for three months.