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Coronavirus outbreak edges closer to pandemic status
22:36, 24.02.2020

In South Korea, cases of the new coronavirus surged eighteenfold over a week, creating the largest center of infection outside China. In Singapore, clusters of infections have been traced to two churches, a hotel business meeting, a health products shop and a construction site. In Italy, health authorities confirmed more than 50 cases over two days in the biggest hot spot in Europe so far. In Iran, an outbreak has seeded new cases in Lebanon and Canada — a worrisome sign that the virus could be spreading more widely than earlier realized.
There are outbreaks. There are epidemics. And there are pandemics, where epidemics become rampant in multiple countries and continents simultaneously. The novel coronavirus that causes the disease named covid-19 is on the verge of reaching that third, globe-shaking stage.
Amid an alarming surge in cases with no clear link to China, infectious disease experts believe the flulike illness may soon be impossible to contain. The World Health Organization has not declared covid-19 a pandemic, and the most devastating effects, including more than 2,400 deaths, are still in China. But the language coming from the organization’s Geneva headquarters has turned more ominous in recent days as the challenge of containment grows more daunting.“The window of opportunity is still there, but the window of opportunity is narrowing,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday. “We need to act quickly before it closes completely.”
At the beginning of any disease outbreak, public health experts painstakingly trace the contacts of every person who becomes sick. The experts build a family tree of possible illness, with branches that include anyone who might have shaken hands with, or been sneezed on, by an infected person. But with confirmed infections approaching 80,000 people, tracing contacts on a case-by-case basis could soon be impractical.
If the coronavirus becomes a true pandemic, a large proportion of the human population — a third, a half, two-thirds even — could become infected, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that all will become ill. The word “pandemic” evokes fear, but it describes how widespread an outbreak may be, not its deadliness.

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