(NEW YORK) — Public health officials are sounding the alarm as an outbreak of a new coronavirus that began in China is now infecting thousands of people in dozens of other countries, including the United States.
Here’s the latest on the developing situation.
10:05 a.m. WHO director-general: ‘This virus has pandemic potential’
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the rising number of novel coronavirus cases confirmed outside of China in countries like South Korea, Italy and Iran demonstrate what this newly identified virus is capable of, and everyone must be prepared.
“Even developed countries could be surprised,” Tedros warned. “Our message continues to be that this virus has pandemic potential.”
“No country should assume it wouldn’t get cases. That could be a fatal mistake, quite literally,” he added. “This virus does not respect borders. It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities. It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development. The point is not only to prevent cases arriving on your shores — the point is what you do when you have cases.”
In the past 24 hours, the WHO has recorded seven nations that announced their first cases of the novel coronavirus : Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania.
“My advice to these countries is to move swiftly and contain it,” Tedros said. “With the right measures, it can be contained. That’s one of the key messages from China.”
Out of 320,000 cases tested for COVID-19 in China’s Guangdong province, just 0.14% were positive, which indicates “containment is possible,” according to Tedros.
Tedros noted he’s encouraged by the progress made in several countries that, as of Thursday, have not reported any new cases in over two weeks, including Belgium, Cambodia, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
The latest patient being treated for the novel coronavirus in the United States is being investigated by health officials as possibly the first case of “community spread” on American soil.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the diagnosis Wednesday night, bringing the total number of infected Americans to 60. The majority of the cases are U.S. citizens who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was placed under quarantine in Japanese waters as hundreds of passengers became infected with the newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19, which originated in China.
However, the newest patient, who is a resident of California’s Solano County, had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual, according to the California Department of Public Health.
It’s the first COVID-19 case of unknown origin in the United States, indicating there could be “community spread,” which means the virus is circulating among the local community and infecting people, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected, according to the CDC.
“We have been anticipating the potential for such a case in the U.S.,” Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement Wednesday night, “and given our close familial, social and business relationships with China, it is not unexpected that the first case in the U.S. would be in California.”
The individual was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento from another hospital on Wednesday, and doctors requested COVID-19 testing by the CDC.
“When the patient arrived, the patient had already been intubated, was on a ventilator, and given droplet protection orders because of an undiagnosed and suspected viral condition,” UC Davis Medical Center said in a statement Wednesday night. “Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process.”
The CDC ordered COVID-19 testing on Sunday, according to UC Davis Medical Center.
The CDC said it would continue to investigate the source of the infection. It’s “possible” that the individual “may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected,” an agency official said in a statement Wednesday.
The new coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December and has since spread overseas to at least 37 other countries, with South Korea, Italy and Iran seeing recent surges in case numbers. The World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency and said it “absolutely” has the potential to become a pandemic, has recorded more than 81,000 confirmed infections globally. Over 96% of those cases were in China.
At least 2,762 people have died from confirmed cases of the virus, all but 44 in China, according to the latest data from the WHO.
COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.
Increasing concerns over virus exposure have prompted some cities around the world to suspend public gatherings and shutter schools, businesses and restaurants. Many airlines have also suspended flights to China as well as South Korea, which has the second-highest national total of coronavirus cases behind China.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe on Thursday ordered the closure of all schools nationwide to help control the spread of the disease. The closures will go into effect Monday and will last until spring holidays begin in late March.
China has imposed severe restrictions on large areas, including a lockdown on the city of Wuhan, and the United States has put in place strict travel restrictions on people who have recently visited China.
During a press conference Wednesday in the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump said it was “not the right time” to impose additional restrictions on entry to the country — although he noted, “we may do that.” Trump also told ABC News’ Karen Travers that the United States did have plans for quarantining cities “on a larger scale, if we need it.”
The Trump administration has asked lawmakers for emergency funding to combat the new coronavirus — $1.25 billion in new funding and another $1.25 billion shifted from existing funding previously allocated for other reasons, including some designated to deal with the Ebola virus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with other Democrats in Congress, has criticized the request as being too little, too late.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday morning he’s preparing a detailed Democratic request for emergency coronavirus funding totaling $8.5 billion, which was expected to be finalized and sent to appropriators this week.
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