The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday, February 25, 2020, that the COVID-19 outbreak could grow into a pandemic as markets plunged, while cases peak in China and surge outside the country. South Korea and Italy now rank second and third with the most cases, bringing the number of infected to 80 348 and deaths to 2 707.
According to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the peak in China happened between January 23 and February 2, and the figures have been declining steadily since then.
On the other hand, a spike of cases in other parts of the world prompted authorities to take drastic measures in containing the virus.
In South Korea, the total cases now stand at 977 with 11 deaths, making it the second-worst infected country.
More than half of the cases were reported in the southwestern city of Daegu, where the coronavirus spread rapidly through a mysterious religious group. More than 9 000 members of the group are in quarantine.
Daegu Mayor Kwon Young Jin had ordered 2.5 million residents of the city to stay indoors, while Prime Minister Chung Sye Kyun called on his people to refrain from attending huge gatherings.
Furthermore, the government announced Tuesday its plans to take maximum quarantine steps in the worst-affected city, as well as the provinces nearby.
"If authorities fail to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in Daegu, there is a high possibility that COVID-19 could spread nationwide," said Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Gang lip.
In Italy, the number of cases spiked over the weekend, with 287 infected and 7 deaths confirmed. 90 percent of the cases have occurred primarily in the northern Lombardy region particularly near the town of Codogno.
Authorities put 11 towns on lockdown, affecting around 50 000 residents. Police are patrolling the streets, issuing fines to people caught entering or leaving the locked-down areas.
In addition, schools, museums, and cathedrals across the region were also closed. Italy was the first European Union country to ban flights to and from China.
The country is now the most infected in Europe and the third worst-hit worldwide. Despite this, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was optimistic that their health system could stand up to the epidemic. "Our health system is excellent," he said.
"Our precautionary measures are of the utmost rigor and we trust that by virtue of the combined provisions, a health system of excellence and a policy line of health policy of the utmost rigor we will promote a containment effect of the spread of the virus."
More than three percent in several European stock markets also fell following this, with Milan plummeting 5.4 percent. The U.S. stocks also fell sharply, raising fears about the economic impact of the epidemic.
According to Oxford Economics, worldwide economic growth may plunge more than 1 trillion dollars if the virus continues to spread and becomes a global pandemic.
Ghebreyesus noted that the virus has the potential to become pandemic, saying, "We must focus on containment while doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic."
"There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every country must make its own risk assessment for its own context. WHO is also continuing to do its own risk assessment and is monitoring the evolution of the epidemic around the clock."
The WHO chief also urged all to prioritize protecting health workers, people at risk particularly the elderly and ill, and vulnerable countries.
Meanwhile, other countries that confirmed their first case of COVID-19 on Monday and Tuesday were Austria, Croatia, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, and Oman.
Featured image credit: Snehal Kataruka/Flickr