New York(ANN)-United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on governments to immediately “scale up” their efforts to confront the new coronavirus in an attempt to stop the now-global pandemic.
“Today’s declaration of a pandemic is a call to action — for everyone, everywhere,” Guterres said in a statement released on Wednesday, referring to the announcement earlier in the day by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the coronavirus outbreak is now a global pandemic.
“As we fight the virus, we cannot let fear go viral,” Guterres added. “Together, we can still change the course of this pandemic — but that means addressing inaction. I call on every government to step up and scale up their efforts now.”
He said the transmission of the virus could be much curtailed if countries tracked and isolated confirmed and suspected cases.
The WHO earlier on Wednesday described the deadly virus outbreak as a pandemic and blamed its spread on “alarming levels of inaction.”
The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December last year, has spread around the world, halting industries, bringing travel to a standstill, closing schools, and forcing the cancellation of public events.
More than 126,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and 4,630 have died, the vast majority of them in China, according to a Reuters tally.
China’s Hubei sees single-digit increase for first time
China’s National Health Commission announced on Wednesday that Hubei Province, the epicenter of the Chinese outbreak, had for the first time recorded a single-digit increase in the number of new coronavirus infections in its daily tally.
The commission said only eight cases had been recorded, all of them in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei.
The development comes as more businesses reopened in the Chinese province, with local authorities cautiously easing strict containment measures that have been implemented to contain the outbreak.
Moreover, seven new cases were reported in mainland China on Wednesday, bringing the total daily tally combined with those in Hubei to 15, which showed a drop from 24 cases a day earlier.
The total number of confirmed cases recorded in mainland China now stands at 80,793, and the death toll has reached 3,169 people. As of Tuesday, 62,793 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital — nearly 80% of the overall infections.
While COVID-19 is spreading quickly across the globe, its progress in China has slowed markedly over the past seven days as a result of weeks of strict measures imposed to curb its outbreak, including the lockdown on Wuhan.
Peak of coronavirus epidemic has passed: China
China’s National Health Commission announced on Thursday that the country’s coronavirus epidemic had now passed its peak.
“Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.”
New coronavirus cases slow in South Korea, too
Meanwhile, South Korea reported 114 new cases of the coronavirus and six more deaths on Thursday, resuming a relative decline in new cases after a spike the day before.
The new cases bring the country’s total to 7,869, with 66 deaths.
The numbers are far lower than the peak of the deadly virus outbreak in South Korea on February 29, when 909 confirmed cases were reported.
Italy shuts stores across country
In Italy, which has been the hardest hit by the virus after China, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday announced the closure of all “shops, bars, pubs, and restaurants” across the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The closure order will not apply to pharmacies and food shops.
Conte’s announcement came hours after his government promised to spend up to 28 billion dollars to shore up the economy amid the outbreak.
The coronavirus has killed 827 people in Italy over the past two weeks. The death toll accounts for nearly 60 percent of the deaths recorded outside China since the epidemic first started in central Hubei.
In a surprise move at the weekend, the Italian government responded to the outbreak by imposing a lockdown on Lombardy, Italy’s rich, northern region, as well as 14 provinces in four other regions out of the country’s 19 areas.
The measures included the closure of all museums, cultural centers, cinemas, theaters, and other public venues and events in the affected areas, impacting a total of 16 million people in the country of 60 million.
Philippines’ president to be tested for virus over potential exposure
In a related development on Thursday, a Philippine official said the country’s President Rodrigo Duterte was to be tested for the new coronavirus as part of “precautionary measures” because he had been in regular contact with other officials who for their part had been at risk of exposure.
Two key government buildings in the capital, Manila, namely the Senate building and the Central Bank, were being disinfected over the exposure scare.
Lawmakers and other government officials had earlier attended a series of public events along with local people. The official, named Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, said Duterte, who at 74 is in a vulnerable age group for the virus, will be tested because he had been in regular contact with some of those officials.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines surged to 49 as of Wednesday, up more than eight times compared to the past four days. The Philippine Health authorities also announced the Southeast Asian country’s second death, the first since an infected Chinese tourist died last month.