Greece confirmed its first case of COVID-19 and a teacher in France died on Wednesday as Europe scrambles to deal with the biggest cluster of infections outside of Asia.

The Greek health ministry said a 38-year-old woman in Thessaloniki, who had recently travelled to Italy, tested positive for the virus.

It comes after Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and mainland Spain confirmed their first cases on Tuesday.

The French health ministry announced on Wednesday a 60-year-old local man had died overnight. Previously, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist had died in Paris.

Meanwhile, a COVID-19 patient is in critical condition in Germany and authorities in Austria placed an apartment complex in the southern town of Bad Kleinkirchheim under quarantine on Wednesday after a 56-year-old woman from northern Italy died overnight.

State officials said tests were being conducted to determine whether the woman had the virus. Other residents of the apartment complex were also being tested, they said.

The total number of confirmed cases currently stands at around 81,000, and while the majority of those are in mainland China, clusters continue to grow outside the country, fueling global worries and a warning from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that countries need to act “to prevent a potential pandemic.”

Latest from around the world

  • Hundreds of tourists are being kept in a hotel on the Spanish island of Tenerife after a guest tested positive for the virus
  • Iran reported four new deaths, taking its total up to 19 – the highest death toll outside of China. Iran’s president said there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities over the rapid spread of the virus
  • Several Middle Eastern countries reported jumps in cases tied to travel from Iran. Kuwait’s KUNA news agency said 12 cases have been confirmed there, and Bahrain’s state-run news agency said it had 26 cases
  • Brazilian media is reporting the first case of coronavirus in South America, after a Brazilian resident tested positive following a trip to Italy
  • South Korean authorities said 216 of the 284 new cases in the country were in Daegu, where the government has been mobilizing public health tools to contain the spread of the outbreak, and in neighboring towns. South Korea now has 1,261 confirmed infections of the virus and 11 deaths

German man in critical condition

The health ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia state in Germany said a man was first hospitalized Monday with serious pneumonia in the town of Erkelenz near the Dutch border.

The man, reported to be in his 40’s, was moved to Duesseldorf’s University Hospital after being diagnosed with the virus, while his wife was isolated after showing symptoms.

Stephan Pusch, who heads the district administration in Heinsberg, where Erkelenz is located, said on Wednesday that schools and kindergartens in the area would be shut for the day.

Meanwhile, Dutch health officials said they were tracing the movements of the German man after learning that he visited the southern province of Limburg last week. The Netherlands doesn’t yet have any confirmed cases of the virus.

WHO: No ‘hidden iceberg’ of cases

Bruce Aylward, head of WHO mission to China and who recently returned from Wuhan, played down reports that a large number of COVID-19 carriers with mild symptoms could be spreading the virus without knowing they were infected.

“There is not huge transmission beyond what you can actally see clinically,” he told reporters in Geneva. “All the data that we have suggests there isn’t this massive iceberg.”

Asked about online theories that the true death toll in China is in the millions, he said: “I didn’t go to every single place, every corner of China, but we have a pretty good sense of what this epidemic looks like and [our] numbers are reflective of that.”

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