- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2020

The World Health Organization said the spread of the new coronavirus in Italy, Iran and South Korea is “deeply concerning” but that labeling the outbreak a pandemic at this point would not fit the facts and spark unnecessary fear.

Italy is locking down a cluster of towns in the northern region of Lombardy as its national case count rose above 200.

South Korea has reported more than 800 cases, making it the worst-hit place besides the outbreak’s epicenter in China. Eight people have died from the outbreak centered in the southeastern city of Daegu, where 2.5 million people have been asked to stay indoors.

Japan has reported slightly more cases than their Korean neighbors, though many of those cases were tied to a formerly quarantined cruise ship.

Iran, meanwhile, reported over 40 cases. Eight people have died.

No one has died of the coronavirus on U.S. soil but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said the case count had risen to 53.

Americans repatriated from the Diamond Princess account for 36 of the infections, while three were flown home from Wuhan, China, on State Department flights.

Twelve of the cases are in people who’d traveled into the U.S. on their own, and two caught the virus from human-to-human transmission.

The global reach has many wondering if the disease is becoming a pandemic in which much of the global population could be at risk.

“Our decision about whether to use the word ‘pandemic’ to describe an epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of disease it causes and the impact it has on the whole society,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said. “For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe diseases or deaths. Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”

He described the situation as a series of epidemics that are affecting various countries in different ways, with each requiring a tailored response.

“Using the word ‘pandemic’ now does not fit the facts but it may certainly cause fear,” Mr. Tedros added. This is not the time to focus on what word we use. That will not prevent a single infection today or save a single life today. This is a time for all countries, communities, families and individuals to focus on preparing.”

WHO says the good news is that cases appear to be declining in China. The outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in December.

China has reported over 77,300 cases and 2,600 deaths, though the 24-hour count of new cases was down to 460, continuing a general decrease in daily tallies.

“We are encouraged by the continued decline in cases in China,” Mr. Tedros said.

Cases in China, where the communist government established strict quarantine measures, appeared to peak and then plateau between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and have been declining steadily since then, Mr. Tedros said, citing the findings of a WHO team dispatched to the epicenter.

Mr. Tedros said the fatality rate from the disease known as COVID-19 is between 2% and 4% in Wuhan and 0.7% outside of Wuhan.

Patients with mild cases can recover within two weeks while people with severe bouts of COVID-19 need about three to six weeks to recover.

Outside of China, there have been 2,074 cases in eight countries and 23 deaths

WHO said it is sending a special teams to Italy, Iran and other countries to help them respond to their emerging clusters.

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