The World Health Organization declared Thursday that the new coronavirus epidemic was at a “decisive point” as countries across the globe battled to contain the deadly outbreak.
Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest sites as the number of deaths jumped in neighboring Iran, while Japan and Iraq ordered the closure of schools.
Alarm is growing as China is no longer the only breeding ground for COVID-19, with other countries including South Korea and Italy becoming hotbeds of infection, raising fears of a pandemic.
“We’re at a decisive point,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva. “If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus, you can prevent people getting sick, you can save lives.”
The virus has already killed more than 2,760 people, mostly in China — where it first emerged in December — and infected more than 81,000 in over 45 countries.
But there are now more daily cases being recorded outside China, raising fears that poor countries with weak health infrastructures will not be able to cope.
“It’s what’s happening in the rest of the world that’s now our greatest concern,” Tedros said.