WHO says threat of coronavirus pandemic ‘very real’

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The threat of a global pandemic is rising as the new coronavirus rapidly spreads across the world from Asia, to Europe, the Middle East and now parts of the United States, according to the World Health Organisation's Chief.

"Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a conference call in the organisation’s Geneva headquarters Monday.

While the virus is slowing in China, where it originated in December, it’s picking up pace across other parts of the world, spreading to more than 100 countries with more than 111,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Korea has the most cases outside of China with roughly 7,500 infections, followed closely by Italy and Iran, which both had more than 7,000 cases as of Monday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"When you reach 100 countries and when you reach 100,000 cases, it is time to step back and think, two weeks ago it was 30 countries," said Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s emergencies programme.

Tedros said only a handful of countries "have signs of sustained community transmission," adding that it’s still too early for world leaders to give up.

He said 70 percent of the more than 80,000 confirmed cases in China have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, saying the outbreak there may be ending.

"China is bringing its epidemic under control," he said.

In the meantime, new precautionary measures have been declared by a number of countries, with Saudi Arabia reducing to five minutes the time between adhan and iqama, under a decision by Sheikh Dr. Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al Al Sheikh, Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance of Saudi Arabia. As part of the decision, Friday orations won't exceed 15 minutes in a bid to reduce crowd and provide the utmost protection for the safety of citizens and residents.

In Egypt, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly decided on Monday to suspend all crowded events or large gatherings until further notice. The decision is part of the precautionary measures the government has adopted to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Egyptian cabinet said in a statement.

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