Time running out to prevent global coronavirus pandemic, experts warn

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Casalpusterlengo, Italy - 23 February 2020: Italian State Police officers check cars and passengers moving in and out of the city as restrictive measures are taken to contain the outbreak of Coronavirus COVID-19 (Photo by Piero Cruciatti/Sipa USA)
Italian police officers check cars and passengers moving in and out of Casalpusterlengo as restrictive measures are taken to contain the outbreak of the new coronavirus. (Piero Cruciatti/Sipa USA)
  • ‘Window of opportunity’ to tackle new coronavirus is narrowing, WHO says

  • Global infections near 80,000 as death toll passes 2,600

  • Outbreak in Italy sees 12 cities in lockdown and tourists afraid to visit

  • Confirmed number of UK cases reaches 13

Time is running out to prevent a global coronavirus pandemic, health experts have warned.

Italy has locked down 50,000 people in 12 northern towns after more than 100 people became infected with the new coronavirus, while sharp increases in cases have happened in Iran and South Korea.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Daily Mail: “The director general of the World Health Organization [WHO] has recently spoken of a narrowing of the window of opportunity to control the current epidemic.

“The tipping point after which our ability to prevent a global pandemic ends seems a lot closer after the past 24 hours.”

Specialist centres set up in the UK to treat coronavirus. (PA Graphics)
Specialist centres set up in the UK to treat coronavirus. (PA Graphics)

While cases in China – where the outbreak originated from – are declining, he described the new cases as “extremely concerning”.

Read more: Two MPs self-isolate over coronavirus fears

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said on Friday that the “window of opportunity” to tackle the coronavirus, officially named Covid-19, was narrowing.

The surge of infections has triggered steep falls in Asian stock markets and oil prices tumbled. The Korean won has fallen to its lowest point since August.

Four Britons are being treated at specialist centres in northern England after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 13.

They were on the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan for more than two weeks and flew back on a repatriation flight.

Read more: Fear, boredom and adventure: life on a quarantined cruise ship

A total of 30 British people and two Irish citizens were quarantined at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral, after arriving back in the UK on Saturday.

Police patrol outside the buildings at Arrowe Park Hospital, where passengers that have been repatriated to the UK from a cruise ship hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus in Yokohama, Japan, will be quarantined for 14 days to protect against the spread of the illness should any of them be infected, in Upton, England, Saturday Feb. 22, 2020.  The Diamond Princess cruise ship was stuck in quarantine off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, with 3,700 passengers and crew. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
Police patrol outside the buildings at Arrowe Park Hospital, which is being used to quarantine people while they are assessed for coronavirus. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)

As cases spiked in Italy, authorities cancelled the famous Venice carnival and called off football games while Austria halted rail traffic to and from Italy for several hours after suspecting one train had people with coronavirus on board.

In Iran, four more deaths confirmed by officials brings the Covid-19 death total to 12.

There have now been 47 confirmed cases in the country, including people who have died, according to the state broadcaster.

The Iranian outbreak is mostly concentrated in the city of Qom but it spread rapidly in the last few days to four other cities, including the capital, Tehran.

But another health expert, David Heymann, the professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described the use of the word “pandemic” as distracting.

“It is still a series of outbreaks and countries where they are occurring should make every effort to stop transmission and all countries should prepare for more widespread occurrence if it happens,”j he said.

“Transmissibility in the community is not yet fully understood – terms such as pandemic are distracting – what is necessary is to understand the current situation in each country.

“Outbreaks must be stopped if possible, and if there is community spread also, community mitigation such as social distancing should be considered along the lines of pandemic preparedness plans for influenza that countries may decide to roll out.

“It is for WHO to determine when the outbreaks should be called a pandemic and they will do this based on information from many different sources.”

Watch a video about the outbreak below

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