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Coronavirus: Time running out to stop global spread of epidemic, warns World Health Organisation

The window of opportunity to contain the wider spread of the deadly Coronavirus COVID-19 is closing, the chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned after cases were reported in Iran and Lebanon.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, 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.”

Reiterating previous assertions on the ongoing risk of the virus which has claimed the lives of more than 2,200, he added: “This outbreak could go in any direction.

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“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."

Mr Ghebreyesus went on to note it was "very concerning" that Iran had reported 18 cases and 4 deaths in just the past two days after the UN’s global health body supplied testing kits to Tehran.

The disease is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province where the majority of the 76,000 cases of the virus have been reported.

Despite initial cases being reported in December 2019, the WHO held off on declaring the virus a public health emergency of international concern until 30 January – saying at the time “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems”.

Lebanon confirmed its first case of the disease on Friday, with officials in the country observing two other potential instances after a 45-year-old woman arriving from the holy city of Qom in Iran on Thursday tested positive.

"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."

More to follow...