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Health officials have raised concerns over the increasing spread of the novel coronavirus disease as new cases are confirmed in persons without any travel history to China.

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Ghebreyesus, during the daily press briefing on the status of the disease on Monday, said “the detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire, but for now, it’s only a spark.”

As at Sunday, five British citizens had contracted the virus in the French Alpine town of Contamines-Montjoie.

Also on Monday, the U.K. said it confirmed new cases linked to a British man who went to a conference in Singapore.

The increasing number of cases are beginning to spark concerns as there is no known cure or vaccine available to curb the spread.

Mr Ghebreyesus said recently, there are some concerning instances of onward 2019nCoV transmission from people with no travel history to China, like the cases reported in France and in England.

“Our objective remains containment. We call on all countries to use the window of opportunity we have to prevent a bigger fire,” he said.

Rising numbers

Officials of the UN agency said the number of people who are getting infected ofv2019-nCoV has been increasing and the World needs to remain on guard.

As of 6.am Geneva time Monday, there were 40,235 confirmed 2019nCoV cases in China, and 909 deaths.

Outside China, there are 319 cases in 24 countries, with 1 death.

Mr Ghebreyesus said the overall pattern of the disease has not changed as 99 per cent of the cases and deaths are still reported from China and most cases are mild.

“About two per cent of cases are fatal – which of course is still too many,” he said.

He also added that the agency is working on getting answers on where the 2019-nCoV outbreak is going.

“A lot of people are asking, where is the 2019nCoV outbreak going? Is it getting better, is it getting worse? We are doing several things to answer those questions,” he said.

The WHO chief said it has sent a team of advance experts to China to work with scientists in China in helping the world find a headway to curbing the spread of the new coronavirus.

“An advance team of WHO experts has just arrived in China, led by Bruce Aylward, to lay the groundwork for the larger international team.

WHO Executive Director, Michael J Ryan at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva WHO Executive Director, Michael J Ryan at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva. [PHOTO CREDIT: World Health Organisation]

“Bruce and colleagues will be working with their Chinese counterparts to make sure we have the right expertise to answer the right questions.”

The Head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, Sylvie Briand, said the coronavirus pneumonia produces mild cold symptoms in about 80 per cent of patients.

World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus and Head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, Sylvie Briand, at the coronavirus press conference in GenevaWorld Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus and Head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, Sylvie Briand, at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus and Head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, Sylvie Briand, at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva. [PHOTO CREDIT: World Health Organisation]

About 15 per cent of the people who contract the virus have ended up with pneumonia with three per cent to five per cent of all patients needing intensive care, she said.

The respiratory disease, which has killed over 900 people, is capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing, and germs left on inanimate objects.

Symptoms of the disease can include a sore throat, runny nose, fever or pneumonia and can progress to multiple organ failure or death in some severe cases.

Diagnosis building

With the increasing rise in new confirmed cases of the disease and no respite on when the outbreak will be over, WHO is assisting countries, especially the “low and middle income countries,” establish diagnosis capacity, in the eventuality of its spread to their territory.

So far, 168 laboratories around the world (Nigeria inclusive) now have the right technology.

When it broke out in December in Wuhan, China, many countries did not have the right technology to diagnose the disease.

Mr Ghebreyesus said WHO is working to equip laboratories with the capacity to rapidly diagnose 2019nCoV cases.

World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus at the coronavirus press conference in GenevaWorld Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva. [PHOTO CREDIT: World Health Organisation]

“Without vital diagnostic capacity, countries are in the dark as to how far and wide the virus has spread and who has new coronavirus or another disease with similar symptoms.

“We have now identified 168 labs around the world with the right technology to diagnose 2019nCoV.”

On Friday, WHO said it sent medical supplies such as masks, gloves, gowns and diagnostic tests around the world.

The UN health agency is discouraging stockpiling of protective gear, saying the limited items need to be saved for regions most impacted by the virus.

The price of protective gear has increased, while availability has decreased, WHO officials said.

Mr Ghebreyesus said WHO have sent kits to Cameroon, Côte d’ivoire, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda and some other countries.

Many of those countries have already started using them and another shipment of 150,000 for 2019nCOV tests is being assembled in Berlin on Tuesday and is destined for over 80 laboratories in all regions.

Last week, the Africa CDC conducted training in with 12 countries, using tests sent by WHO. Further training are still expected to take place.

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