GENEVA: The World Health Organisation said yesterday the spread of coronavirus cases among people who have not been to China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire” and the human race must not let the epidemic get out of control.
As of 0500 GMT yesterday, there had been 40,235 confirmed cases reported in China and 909 deaths, as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The death toll from the epidemic had jumped by 97 on Sunday – the largest number in a single day since the virus was detected in the city of Wuhan in December.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew on board remained quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama, with 65 more cases detected, taking the number of confirmed case from the Carnival Corp-owned vessel to 135.
European stocks fell on concerns about the impact of the closure of factories in China on supply chains for companies from Taiwan’s iPhone-maker Foxconn to carmakers Kia Motors and Nissan
Across mainland China, where people were trickling back to work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday, 3,062 new infections were confirmed on Sunday, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).
Wu Fan, vice-dean of Shanghai Fudan University Medical school, said there was hope of a turning point in the outbreak. But Ghebreyesus said there had been “concerning instances” of transmission from people who had not been to China.
“It could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva. “But for now it is only a spark. Our objective remains containment.
“We should really fight hard as one human race to fight this virus before it gets out of control,” he said.
An advance team of international WHO experts had arrived in China to investigate.
“This mission brings together the best of Chinese science, Chinese public health with the best of the world’s public health,” the WHO’s Mike Ryan said in Geneva.
The death toll from the outbreak has now surpassed that of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002/2003.
Usually teeming Chinese cities have become virtual ghost towns after Communist Party rulers ordered lockdowns, cancelled flights and closed factories and schools.
In Britain, the government said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases there had doubled to eight. It declared the virus a serious and imminent threat, giving it additional powers to isolate those suspected of being infected.
President Xi Jinping said the government would prevent large-scale layoffs, Chinese state television reported.