China's outbreak of the coronavirus poses a "very serious threat to the rest of the world" and should be seen as the "number one public enemy," said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to step up detection and containment measures, particularly in at least 30 countries with weaker health systems where it could "cause chaos".
The virus was named COVID-19 for 2019 coronavirus disease with no geographic association, he said.
Referring to some governments' counter-terrorism measures, Tedros said: "To be honest, a virus is more powerful than any terrorist attack at causing political, economic and social upheavals.
"A virus can have more serious consequences than any terrorist act. If the world doesn't want to wake up and see this hostile virus as the number one enemy of the state, I don't think we'll learn from our lessons," he said.
China reported 42,708 confirmed cases, including 1,017 deaths, according to Tedros. In 24 other countries there were fewer than 400 deaths.
The WHO started a two-day meeting calling for the exchange of virus samples and the acceleration of drug and vaccine research.
"The first vaccine could be ready in 18 months, so today we have to do everything we can to fight this virus with the available weapons and to prepare for the vaccines in the long term," said Tedros.
"With 99% of cases in China, this remains an emergency for that country, but it is a very serious threat to the rest of the world," he told more than 400 researchers and national agencies, including some participating in the video conference from mainland China and Taiwan.
Tedros spoke to reporters on Monday about "some cases of transferring people with no travel history to China" and cited cases this week in France and the UK. Coronavirus was diagnosed in five British nationals in France after living in the same ski chalet with a person who had been to Singapore.
"The discovery of this small number of cases could be the spark that turns into a larger fire. But for now, it's just a spark. Our goal remains containment," he said.
Hong Kong residents were evacuated from a residential building where a man and a woman diagnosed with coronavirus were tested live for the virus, health officials said on Tuesday to raise concern about a group of outbreaks in the country ruled by China Scatter city.
There are still many questions about the origin of the virus that appeared in a wild animal market in central China's Wuhan in December and is spread by people in droplets who suffer from coughing or sneezing.
"We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed research roadmap that researchers and donors will follow," Tedros told the meeting.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and comes from a syndicated feed.)