GENEVA: The window of opportunity to contain wider international spread of the epidemic of the new coronavirus disease is closing, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Friday (Feb 21), after cases were reported in Iran and Lebanon.
Asked whether the outbreak is at a "tipping point" after new cases and deaths from COVID-19, the WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he still believed the virus could be contained, but added: "The window of opportunity is narrowing, so we need to act quickly before it closes completely.
"This outbreak could go in any direction," Tedros said. "If we do well, we can avert any serious crisis, but if we squander the opportunity then we will have a serious problem on our hands."
He said it was "very concerning" that Iran had reported 18 cases and 4 deaths in just the past two days, adding that the WHO had supplied testing kits to Tehran.
Lebanon confirmed its first coronavirus case on Friday and said it was monitoring two other potential cases after a 45-year-old woman arriving from the holy city of Qom in Iran on Thursday tested positive, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said.
"We see different patterns of transmission in different places," Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of WHO global infectious hazard preparedness, said. "We have lots of diversity, different outbreaks showing different phases."
Tedros also said that a WHO-led team of international experts and their Chinese counterparts would visit Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, on Saturday.
The full team arrived in China last weekend and its members include experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as from Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore and South Korea.