COVID-19: Is South Korea new epicentre outside China

World Health Organization hints at possible pandemic

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 23 February 2020

After China, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak seemed to have affected South Korea the worst. More than 200 people were infected in the 24 hours through February 22 — the highest spike anywhere outside mainland China.

Two people have died in the Republic of Korea among a total 433 cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was closely monitoring the situation.

Most of the new cases were linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu. The infections reportedly spread from an elderly woman to fellow worshippers in the church. The Korean Centre for Disease Control confirmed the ‘apprehension’ in a statement.

In China, 827 new cases cropped in 24 hours, taking the total to 76,291 there and to 77,940 in the world.

The world’s most populous country fell back to considering only lab-confirmed cases as ‘positive’ two days ago — its third revision of counting methodology. On February 12, China said it would also factor in clinically diagnosed cases; this resulted in a spike.

“That they have gone back to lab-confirmed cases may indicate that the health system in Wuhan have regained the ability to test all suspected cases,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Were the frequent changes confusing? “The Chinese government is taking the best possible actions. As long as we understand how things are counted, we can make the best possible decisions,” Sylvie Briand, director of WHO's Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases Department, said.  

The total death toll reached 2,362. Italy and Iran registered one more death each. The number of deaths outside China were: Iran (5), South Korea (2), Hong Kong (2), Italy (2), Taiwan (1) and Diamond Princess ship (2).

Will there be a pandemic

The window to contain the virus was narrowing and the outbreak can turn messy, Ghebreyesus said. He pointed out that Many cases were not linked to Wuhan. “Iran’s cases are very concerning. Now we have a case in Lebanon linked to Iran. If you connect the dots, it is very worrisome,” the WHO chief said.  

This was a first for WHO, which had ruled out a pandemic in early February.

Ghebreyesus reiterated the need for more funds and sought to end suggestions that COVID-19 originated in a laboratory. 

In India, the government issued an advisory to avoid non-essential travel to Singapore. Passengers arriving from Indonesia, Nepal, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia will be screened.

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