South Korea reported hundreds of new coronavirus infections as cases beyond China continued to grow at a faster rate.
Seoul says it has 3,150 people with COVID-19, with nearly a third of them emerging in the last couple of days.
It urged people not to travel at all if they have a fever or cough, and said the “window of opportunity” to contain the coronavirus was “slowly closing”.
“Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously, and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of [the] impact of #COVID19 to very high at a global level,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyess told a news conference in Geneva.
“Very high” is the highest possible level of risk assessment, he said — although it makes little practical difference in tackling the epidemic.
It came as markets plummeted again on fears the disease could harm the global economy and followed the announcement that a British man quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan had died.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 4% in its opening session on Friday, having dropped 1,200 points on Thursday. US stocks sank again on Friday leaving Wall Street with its worst week since October 2008.
The Geneva Motor Show was cancelled after the Swiss government banned all public and private events involving more than 1,000 people in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
In other COVID-19 updates:
- Wall Street has its worst week since October 2008 due to coronavirus fears.
- Mexico reported its first case
- France had a significant increase in the number of cases from 18 to 38 on Thursday. On Friday it leapt to 57
- Japan ordered all schools to be closed after this weekend
- Saudi Arabia banned travel to Mecca, just months before the annual Hajj pilgrimage
- A woman in California tested positive without having travelled to a zone at risk
WHO Executive Director Mike Ryan told the Geneva news conference that it was still possible to contain COVID-19 with “aggressive containment”.
“This thing can go in any direction [but] we can stop it,” he said. “That’s what we believe.”
He said his message to governments is: ‘Wake up! Get ready. You have a duty to the world to get ready’.”
As countries scrambled to contain the virus, many adopted new measures. In Germany, landing cards were issued to passengers arriving from countries most hit by the virus, while Cyprus added more police and health workers at crossing points at the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state in the north.
Cases in France increase significantly
French coronavirus cases leapt by 19 on Friday, prompting the country’s health minister to tell people to avoid handshakes.
Olivier Veran said a new stage of the epidemic had been crossed as the total number of infections in the country hit 57.
Several of the newly confirmed cases were linked to two people in the department of Oise, in northern France including one patient who died earlier this week of the virus.
In France, some cases were connected to people who had recently returned from Italy. Two others had recently come back from a trip to Egypt.
But Italy remains the most impacted European country with some 800 reported cases and 21 fatalities.
Coronavirus reaches sub-Saharan Africa
Health officials in Nigeria reported their first case of the disease on Friday — the first in sub-Sarahan Africa.
The patient, an Italian man, entered Nigeria on Tuesday and fell ill the next day. He is being treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Lagos, the country’s capital.
Meanwhile, South Africa announced on Thursday that it would repatriate Africa citizens from Wuhan “following several requests from the families of South Africans in the city”.
The government said that 132 of the estimated 199 South Africa nationals in the Chinese city have asked to be flown to their home country and that they would be placed in quarantine for 21 days upon their return.
The country’s officials also revealed that two South African nationals in Japan had tested positive. Both worked onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Cases of the virus had already been confirmed in North Africa countries including Egypt and Algeria.
Coronavirus ‘does not respect borders’
The WHO said countries could curtail the impact of COVID-19 if they “move swiftly and contain it at the bud.”
“We’re at a decisive point,” Ghebreyesus said in Geneva, saying the virus was growing faster outside than inside China, where the outbreak began.
“Every country must be ready for its first case, its first cluster,” he said. “This virus does not respect borders.”
He added: “This virus is not influenza. With the right measures, it can be contained. This is not a time for fear, this is a time for taking action now to prevent infections and save lives. Fear and panic doesn’t help.”
Facebook cancels developer conference
Facebook said it would cancel F8, its annual developer conference held in California due to the spread of coronavirus.
“This was a tough call to make — F8 is an incredibly important event for Facebook and it’s one of our favourite ways to celebrate all of you from around the world — but we need to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on,” Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, the company’s director of platform partnerships said in a statement.
The US has so far reported 60 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to WHO.
“There are several countries that have not reported a #COVID19 case for more than 2 weeks: ??, ??, ??, ??, ??, ??, ?? and ??.
Each of these countries is different & each shows that aggressive, early measures can prevent transmission before #coronavirus gets a foothold”-@DrTedros
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 27, 2020