The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the window of opportunity to curb the global spread of the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) has narrowed and urged the international community to act quickly before it completely closes.
"The window of opportunity (to contain the outbreak) could close," Xinhua news agency quoted WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a briefing in Geneva on Friday.
Although the number of cases outside of China has remained relatively small, it was "very worrying" that some of the cases had no clear epidemiological connection, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case, he added.
In addition to the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, South Korea now has the most confirmed cases outside of China.
"We are working closely with the government to fully understand the transmission dynamics that have led to this surge," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
South Korea confirmed 142 more cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and increased the total number of infections to 346.
The WHO chief also mentioned that Iran has reported 18 cases and four deaths in the past two days, which is "very worrying" as there is now a case related to Iran in Lebanon.
These "points or trends" are actually very worrying, he said.
However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believed that "the window of opportunity is still there".
He urged the international community, including funding, to act quickly to control the epidemic before the window closes completely.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged other countries to take their actions very seriously.
"But at the same time, we have to prepare for all eventualities, because this outbreak could go in any direction and even become chaotic," he warned.
"If we do well within the narrowing time window, we can avert any serious crisis. If we miss the opportunity, there is a serious problem in our hands," he said.
As of Saturday morning, the number of confirmed cases outside of China was reported in over 30 countries.
The deaths outside of China have been recorded in Iran, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, France and the Philippines.