More new coronavirus cases outside China than inside, says WHO

Latest figures on new infections suggest Beijing’s strict response to the crisis is paying off

The number of new coronavirus cases being officially reported outside China has overtaken those reported by Beijing for the first time since the outbreak began, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

According to WHO, 427 cases were reported by 37 countries on Tuesday, compared with 411 by the Chinese authorities.

While 96.5% of the total number of 80,980 cases reported so far are in China, the latest figures on new infections suggest Beijing’s strict response to the crisis is paying off.

The virus has killed 2,715 people and infected more than 78,000 in China. A further 52 deaths inside the country were reported on Wednesday – the lowest number in three weeks – with no fatalities outside the centre of the outbreak in Hubei province.


China’s national health commission also reported a drop in the number of new infections to 406, with only five outside Hubei. In the rest of the world there have been more than 40 deaths and 2,700 cases.

On Wednesday, Beijing’s health commissioner announced that the capital would quarantine people for 14 days at home or in groups if they had been to countries seriously affected by the coronavirus.

The number of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea is continuing to rise – a trend that the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described as “deeply concerning”.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Advice about face masks varies. Wearing them while out and about may offer some protection against both spreading and catching the virus via coughs and sneezes, but it is not a cast-iron guarantee of protection

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area. 

In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

The virus has proliferated in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East in recent days, with the death toll rising in Iran, infections in South Korea passing 1,200 and the first Latin American case confirmed in Brazil.

Despite the disease’s spread, Tedros once again warned against rushing to declare a pandemic. “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,” he said on Wednesday. “It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.”

Tedros said a WHO mission would travel to Iran at the weekend, where 19 people have died and 139 others have been infected by the virus.

The first two cases of the virus were reported on Wednesday by the government of Pakistan, with one of the infected patients having travelled to Iran with his family.

A chef works in a mask at a restaurant in Tehran
A chef works in a mask at a restaurant in Tehran on Wednesday. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

South Korea reported 284 new infections on Wednesday, raising the total to 1,261 – by far the highest outside China – while an 11th person died.

Ninety per cent of the new infections in South Korea were in Daegu and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang. Seoul has announced plans to introduce “maximum measures” to contain the coronavirus, including plans to test about 200,000 members of a secretive church believed to be at the centre of the country’s outbreak.

Italy, meanwhile, has reported 374 cases and 10 deaths. Authorities have locked down 11 towns and ordered Serie A football games to be played to empty stadiums.

Italian prosecutors have also opened an investigation into the procedures adopted by hospitals in the northern Lombardy region to manage the initial coronavirus outbreak.

The inquiry is examining whether medical staff missed opportunities to identify coronavirus in the man identified as Italy’s first “super spreader”.

The man is believed to have infected five people and has also been linked to eight other infections, among them health workers and patients at a hospital in Lombardy.

According to reports in the Italian media, it took four contacts with doctors before the man was eventually tested for coronavirus, and then only after he had spent 36 hours in the hospital – a period during which he infected a number of other people.

Croatia, Austria and Switzerland reported their first cases on Tuesday, while Greece and Norway reported their first on Wednesday.

In France, a second person infected with the coronavirus died late on Tuesday, according to the country’s health ministry. The death was one of three new cases in France this week, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 17.

Ten cases of the virus have been detected across Spain in the past 36 hours and hundreds of guests and workers remain in quarantine in a hotel in Tenerife after four Italian guests tested positive for coronavirus.

The health ministry raised the risk of local transmission from low to moderate after more cases were detected, including that of a man in Andalucía who had not travelled to Italy or Asia and is thought to have picked up the virus in Spain.

On Wednesday, a 61-year-old Brazilian man who travelled to Italy earlier this month was found to have Latin America’s first confirmed case of the virus. The country’s health ministry said it was investigating another 20 suspected cases but had ruled out 59 other possible infections.

“We will now see how this virus behaves in a tropical country in the middle of summer and what its behaviour pattern will be,” Brazil’s health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, told in a press conference.

Speaking in Italy on Wednesday morning, WHO’s Europe director said that while the virus was being taken very seriously, people needed to remain calm and keep things in perspective.

“We should keep in mind the principle of proportionality – we look and assess the risks objectively and then formulate the response,” said Hans Kluge.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded on the 7 April 1948, a date celebrated annually as World Health Day. As an agency of the United Nations, the organisation has developed into an international establishment which involves 150 countries and employs 7,000 people. WHO is responsible for the World Health Report and the World Health Survey. Since its establishment it has played a fundamental role in the eradication of smallpox, and currently prioritises diseases including HIV/AIDs, Ebola, Malaria and Tuberculosis. 

WHO takes a global responsibility for the co-ordinated management and handling of outbreaks of new and dangerous health threats - like the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The current WHO director general is Dr Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, elected for a five year term in 2017. Prior to his election, Dr Tedros served as Ethiopia’s minister for foreign affairs. He also served as minister of Health for Ethiopia from 2005-2012 where he led extensive reform to the country’s health system.

WHO's handling of the global pandemic has been criticised by US president Donald Trump, who announced in April that the US will no longer contribute to funding the agency.

Grace Mainwaring and Martin Belam

“We take the virus and the situation very seriously. At the same time, we should also remember that four out of five patients have mild symptoms and recover. The mortality [rate] is about 2% now – 1% in China – and it’s mainly affecting people over 65 with weakened immunity and who have other diseases at the same time.”

Dr Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for health and food safety, described the outbreak as “a test case for existing global emergency response mechanisms” as well as EU cooperation.

She stressed the need for real-time information sharing and said all member states had been asked to review their pandemic plans and healthcare capabilities, especially when it came to diagnosis, laboratory testing and contact-tracing procedures.

Kyriakides said that while the EU was in the “containment phase” of the virus it had to be ready for a rise in cases. The commissioner also welcomed the support of those European ministers who had said that borders should remain open, adding that it was not the time for what could be considered “disproportionate and ineffective measures”.


Sam Jones, Angela Giuffrida, Lorenzo Tondo and Kate Lyons

The GuardianTramp

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