The sudden rise in novel coronavirus cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea is “deeply concerning”, but the virus can still be contained and does not amount to a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief said on Wednesday.
Infections linked to Iran have been confirmed in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman, while cases tied to Italy have been found in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
But for the first time on Tuesday, the number of new cases officially reported outside China – 427, by 37 countries – has exceeded new cases reported by Beijing (411), according to Tedros and figures provided by WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.
“We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts,” Tedros said.
On January 30, the WHO already declared a public health emergency of international concern, “our highest level of alarm”, he said in remarks to Geneva-based diplomats.
“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralysing systems. It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true,” he added.
Tedros said a WHO mission would travel to Iran at the weekend. It had originally meant to travel there on Tuesday.
Nineteen people have died and 139 people have been infected by coronavirus in Iran, health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on Wednesday in an announcement on state TV.