Infection cases soar in several nations, raising pandemic worry

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/23 23:58:41

Ambulances carrying patients infected with the COVID-19 arrive at a hospital in Daegu on Sunday. South Korea raised its alert on novel coronavirus to the "highest level", President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday, as the country reported 123 new infections. South Korea has seen a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days after a cluster of infections emerged from a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu last week. Photo: AFP

It's time for the international community to treat the novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) as a threat to global public health, with more infection cases being identified in countries across Asia, Europe and the Middle East and some cases showing no clear travel history linked to China. It is necessary to consider the epidemic as a possible pandemic that requires thorough preparation and coordination regarding technology, medical capabilities and resources at global scale, analysts called. 

As China witnessed confirmed cases outside Central China's Hubei Province stabilizing during the past few days, the situation has become more serious in several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan, while the number of infection cases also soared in Europe and the Middle East with more deaths reported. 

The US is now preparing for the likely spread of the coronavirus while South Korea raised its health response alert to the highest level. 

South Korea reported its fourth coronavirus death as total infections surged to 602 as of Sunday and more fatal cases have been reported in many regions, according to local media. 

The South Korean government raised the country's disease alert to its highest level, vowing to take "unprecedented powerful" measures to combat the deadly virus.

In Europe, Italy implemented city lockdown measures in northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto amid growing fears of the disease spreading further, following cases in the country jumping to over 130 including two deaths. 

Israel reported its first case of coronavirus infection, AFP reported on Friday. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned that some cases outside of China, where the epidemic originated, have no clear epidemiological link to China. 

Outside China, there are now 1,200 cases in 26 countries along with 8 deaths. 

While some analysts and health officials urged countries  to take more active steps to enforce disease prevention, particularly, to draw lessons from Wuhan, the city in Hubei where the disease originated. 

China's lessons 

"To some extent, other countries are lucky at this point as China made some mistakes at the outbreak's early stages, which others could avoid and draw lessons from," said Cai Jiangnan, director of the Center for Healthcare Management at the China Europe International Business School. 

They could provide relevant information as early as possible while enhancing information-sharing mechanisms with the WHO, take strict prevention and control measures soon, letting the top-down medical treatment system play out its advantages, an example being to initiate timely screenings at a community level, Cai noted. "At the early days of the outbreak, many people rushed into large-scale hospitals in the city, weighing heavily on medical care system and causing cross infections," he said. 

The US has been preparing for the possible spread of COVID-19 at community level, which requires joint efforts at all levels of government to enforce disease surveillance. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently mentioned that it has begun working with five public labs to conduct community-based influenza surveillance so it could test those with flu like symptoms for COVID-19. The CDC confirmed with the Global Times over the weekend that surveillance has not begun yet. 

Health authorities of the US may want to be ready to adopt school and business closures similar to Asian countries if the virus begins to spread through US communities, Reuters reported, citing Nancy Messonnier, an official with CDC.

Other tough measures that China has taken include the implementation wartime measures in cities in Hubei, banning public gatherings, restricting residents from going out, extending the Spring Festival holidays and urging people to stay in quarantine, which could be used as reference for other countries amid the outbreak, analyst said. 

Overseas Chinese in Japan voluntarily give away masks to the Japanese public near the Nagoya Station, Japan on Thursday, reminding the public to pay attention to protecting against the coronavirus. Photo: cnsphoto

Joint efforts 

Given the current situation, no single country can combat this disease alone, and we can't wait until every country reports confirmed cases to take action together, said Shen Yi, director at the Research Center for Cyberspace Governance, at Fudan University.

"We can't underestimate the virus or afford to take chances. They [local officials] in Wuhan didn't take it seriously at the beginning as there were only dozens of cases, such a mentality led to disastrous outcomes," he said. 

The WHO also called on all countries to invest urgently in preparation amid the outbreak, warning that the window of "containment: is narrowing after several death cases in Iran, pushing countries to act quickly. 

Under the WHO structure, it's time for the countries to come up with an unified emergency response mechanism toward the COVID-19 in order to coordinate technology, resources and medical capabilities, Shen noted. 

Compared to China's advantages in mobilizing society all levels, developing countries face a limited capacity of social mobilization, while some might also encounter political pressure from opposition groups. Countries like Italy and Japan now have to deal with shortage of protective masks and nucleic acid test kits. 


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