As of this afternoon, some countries recorded their first cases of the disease, while cases have kept increasing in other countries.
WHO chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus, on Monday said new cases in China have been falling as the epidemic spreads across other countries.
Mr Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing in Geneva that China reported 206 new cases of the virus on Sunday, the lowest number of new cases in that country since January 22. Only eight cases were reported outside Hubei province Sunday.
Meanwhile, outside China, WHO said the total number of cases now tops 8,739 across 61 countries, including 127 deaths.
He said about 81 per cent of cases outside China are from four countries: South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan.
“The epidemics in the Republic of Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are our greatest concern.”
Pandemic or not?
Mr Ghebreyesus had earlier said the health experts would not hesitate to declare the outbreak a pandemic if “that’s what the evidence suggests”.
He said why they are yet to do so is because most cases of COVID-19 can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases.
He said there isn’t any “evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities, that’s one reason why WHO hasn’t declared the outbreak a pandemic.
“We appreciate that people are debating whether this is a pandemic or not. We are monitoring the situation every moment of every day, and analysing the data.
“I have said it before and I’ll say it again: WHO will not hesitate to describe this as a pandemic if that’s what the evidence suggests.
“But we need to see this in perspective. Of the 88,913 cases reported globally so far, 90 per cent are in China, mostly in one province.
“Of the 8739 cases reported outside China, 81 per cent are from four countries,” he said.
Mr Ghebreyesus said the WHO team arrived in Iran Monday afternoon to deliver supplies and support the government in the response.
He added that a staff member of the WHO Iran country office had also tested positive for COVID-19.
“I would like to use this opportunity to thank Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates for his support in making this mission possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, South Korea has so far reported more than 4200 cases and 22 deaths, meaning it has more than half of all cases outside China.
The UN health agency said the cases in South Korea appear to be coming mostly from suspected cases from the five known clusters, rather than the community.
“That’s important because it indicates that surveillance measures are working and Korea’s epidemic can still be contained.
“Knowing and understanding your epidemic is the first step to defeating it. Korea’s situation also underlines that this a unique virus with unique features. This virus is not influenza.
“We are in unchartered territory. We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures.
“If this was an influenza epidemic, we would have expected to see widespread community transmission across the globe by now, and efforts to slow it down or contain it would not be feasible,” he added.
Of the other 57 affected countries, 38 have reported 10 cases or fewer. Nineteen countries including Nigeria have reported only one case, and some countries have contained the virus and not reported in the last two weeks, the official said
Senegal and Jordan reported their first cases Monday, while Egypt and Algeria reported new cases of the disease days after the confirmation of first cases.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, WHO’s health emergencies program, Mike Ryan, said scientists still don’t know exactly how COVID-19 ‘behaves’, saying it is not like influenza.
“We know it’s not transmitting in exactly the same way that influenza was, and that offers us a glimmer, a chink of light, that this virus can be suppressed and pushed and contained,” he said.
Covid-19 is capable of spreading through human to human contacts, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing and germs left on inanimate objects.
The virus also appears to be more severe for older people and those with underlying health health conditions.
Meanwhile, symptoms can include sore throat, runny nose, fever or pneumonia with can lead to multiple organ failure or death in severe cases.
In spite of this, the health officials all agreed that the containment of COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.
The WHO said it will continue to provide evidence-based guidance to help countries and individuals to assess and manage their risk, and make decisions.
“There is no one-size fits all approach. Different countries are in different scenarios.
“WHO is advising countries on actions they can take for each of the ‘three Cs’ scenarios – first case, first cluster, first evidence of community transmission.
“Our message to all countries is: this is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back. Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country,” the global health agency said.