The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is now in at least 75 countries, the World Health Organization said Wednesday in an update on the respiratory disease that has killed more than 3,200 people globally. Italy is being hit particularly hard, with more than 2,000 cases.
But despite that growth, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, "We can push this virus back."
"This virus is not SARS, it is not MERS and it is not influenza," Tedros said Wednesday at a briefing in Geneva. "The nature of this virus means we have an opportunity to break the chains of transmission and contain its spread."
The COVID-19 virus has been confirmed in more than 94,000 people worldwide. Of that number, 51,000 people have recovered from the virus, according to a dashboard created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.
More than 80,000 cases are in mainland China, and most of that country's new cases continue to be reported in Hubei province – home to Wuhan, the coronavirus epicenter.
In recent days, the fastest growth of new coronavirus cases has come outside of China – particularly in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan. It has also caused 12 deaths in the U.S. – all in Washington state. There are now dozens of cases in the U.S., and officials expect the number to rise as more labs gain the ability to test for the virus.
While the WHO's top priority is to help contain COVID-19, Tedros acknowledged that countries should also prepare for "sustained community transmission" within their populations, suggesting COVID-19 could continue to disrupt daily life and tax health systems in more areas.
"At the very least, we can slow it down and buy time," Tedros said.
To help stop the virus from spreading, the WHO recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer. Face masks should only be worn by people who are either sick or caring for someone who is, the agency says.
South Korea now has 5,328 cases, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that figure, 32 people have died and 41 have been discharged after recovering from the disease.
As of late Wednesday local time, South Korea had carried out more than 136,000 tests for the coronavirus.
At least 95 countries and territories have imposed restrictions to limit travel between their region and South Korea, including 36 total bans on Korean citizens, according to the Korean foreign ministry.
Italy has also been walloped by the virus, with 2,263 confirmed cases, according to its health ministry. COVID-19 is also linked to 79 deaths.
People remain on lockdown in the "red zone" of the outbreak, the Italian Ministry of Health says. The area includes 10 towns in the Lombardy region (which has 1,520 cases) and one in Veneto.
In the affected areas, schools and universities have been closed and public events canceled; Italian officials are now considering extending those shutdowns nationwide.
Iran has canceled Friday prayer gatherings in every provincial capital, as the country confirmed more than 2,900 coronavirus cases. It also has 92 deaths — the most of any country outside of China.
"Those infected include top leaders and clerics. President Hassan Rouhani posted to his official website the news that coronavirus has now affected almost every province in the country," NPR's Peter Kenyon reports. "Even so, Rouhani told a cabinet meeting that Iran would get over the crisis quickly."
To stop the spread of infection, officials have shut down schools and universities and cancelled public gatherings such as concerts and sport events.
Japan currently has more than 280 cases, and the country has performed more than 8,111 tests for the coronavirus, the health ministry says.
Japan's new cases include a man in his 40s who arrived at an airport near Nagoya and tested positive for the virus. The man arrived back in his home country after traveling internationally for more than two weeks, making stops in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. He developed a fever on Feb. 21; respiratory symptoms emerged this week, including chest pain.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.