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Global virus cases may be tip of the iceberg: WHO

Filed on February 10, 2020 | Last updated on February 10, 2020 at 09.35 pm
Global virus, cases, iceberg, WHO, World Health Organisation, Lunar New Year holiday, China,
Medical workers in protective suits move a novel coronavirus patient at an isolated ward of a designated hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.- Reuters

The death toll from the epidemic rose to 908, all but two in mainland China.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday the spread of coronavirus cases which had no history of travel to China could be "the spark that becomes a bigger fire" as people across China trickled back to work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday.

"The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries; in short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

The death toll from the epidemic rose to 908, all but two in mainland China, on Sunday as 97 more fatalities were recorded - the largest number in a single day since the virus was detected in the city of Wuhan in December.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew onboard remained quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama, with 65 more cases detected, taking the number of confirmed case from the Carnival Corp-owned vessel to 135.

European stocks fell on concerns about the impact of the closure of factories in China, the world's second-largest economy, on supply chains for companies from Taiwan's iPhone-maker Foxconn to carmakers Kia Motors and Nissan

Across mainland China, 3,062 new infections were confirmed on Sunday, bringing the total number to 40,171, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).

Wu Fan, vice-dean of the Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University, said there was hope the spread might soon reach a turning point.

But Tedros said there had been "concerning instances" of transmission from people who had not been to China.

"It could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire," he told reporters in Geneva. "But for now it is only a spark. Our objective remains containment. We should really fight hard as one human race to fight this virus before it gets out of control."

An advance team of international WHO experts had arrived in China to investigate.

"This mission brings together the best of Chinese science, Chinese public health with the best of world's public health", the WHO's Mike Ryan said in Geneva.

The virus has spread to at least 27 countries and territories, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people. The two deaths outside mainland China were in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The death toll from the outbreak has now surpassed that of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002/2003.

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