WHO confirms 27 cases of new coronavirus spreading human-to-human outside of China

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that it has confirmed 27 cases of the coronavirus spreading person-to-person in nine countries outside of China.

The new figures came as WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged health ministers to immediately improve data-sharing on the virus and said he would send a team of international experts to work with Chinese counterparts.

The UN agency was sending masks, gloves, respirators and nearly 18,000 isolation gowns from its warehouses to some two dozen countries that need support, Tedros told its executive board.

As of midday Tuesday, there had been 425 deaths inside China and one in the Philippines — while 20,471 confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported in China, with 159 cases in 24 other countries, according to WHO’s latest figures.

Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China.

In response to the growing outbreak, 22 nations have officially implemented trade- or travel-related measures, which Tedros said should be “short in duration, proportionate” and reviewed regularly.

“Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma with little public health benefit,” he said.

Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the WHO executive board that some restrictions went against the UN agency’s advice. He cited prohibitions on entry of foreigners who have visited China in the past 14 days, suspension of visa issuance and cancellations of flights.

“Do not engage in over-reaction,” Chen said. “You should follow WHO suggestions and refrain from restrictions on international travel or trade, stay clear of discriminatory actions and stigmatisation.”

“This is still and foremost an emergency for China,” Tedros said, noting that 99 per cent of cases are in China and 97 per cent of deaths are in Hubei province, including the epicentre of Wuhan.

The overall public health cost of the outbreak response from February to April is estimated at $675 million US, which does not include the social or economic consequences of the outbreak, Tedros said.

Meanwhile, a Chinese woman suspected of spreading the virus asymptomatically while in Germany for a business meeting on Jan. 20 was determined, in fact, to be exhibiting symptoms. 

The German government’s public health agency wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine, which first falsely reported the case on Thursday, to correct the mistake. 

The report had stoked fears that the outbreak could be much harder to control if people could spread the virus before they appeared sick. 

WATCH | First patients admitted to the newly built Wuhan hospital:

Built in ten days, a new hospital in Wuhan is now admitting patients with the coronavirus. 0:32

Colombia starts diagnostic tests

Also on Tuesday, Colombia became the first country in Latin America able to do its own diagnostic tests for the coronavirus, the country’s health ministry said.

Colombia has no confirmed cases of the disease, but has tested 50 travelers for the virus over the last five days. The testing capabilities mean local authorities will no longer need to send samples from potentially infected people to the U.S., the ministry said in a statement.

“We are the first country in Latin America which can do local diagnostic tests for the new coronavirus, and if necessary, give support to other countries,” Health Minister Ivan Dario Gonzalez said.

WHO declared the virus a global emergency last week, and experts said much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.

The test can detect the virus in a maximum of 24 hours, health officials said, and within eight hours if the patient is in the capital Bogota.

WATCH | Canadian cycles through the quiet streets of Wuhan:

A Canadian teaching in Wuhan takes to the streets on his bike and comments on what he sees. 1:45

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