“Containment” Is Objective Says WHO Head As New Coronavirus Clusters Emerge in France & UK; WHO Team Lands In China

“Containment” remains the main objective of the battle against the coronavirus, said WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday, following a weekend where reports of new virus clusters in the United Kingdom and France raised fresh concerns about the virus capacity to spread rapidly beyond China’s borders.

The WHO Director General spoke to press after a weekend uptick of freshly reported cases of the mysterious new virus (2019-nCoV) in China as well as abroad.

In China, there were 42,359 confirmed cases and 1012 deaths as of Monday night – passing the watershed mark of the nearly 800 deaths recorded in the SARS epidemic of 2003-2003. Outside of China there are now 319 cases in 24 countries, with one death, WHO reported.

The new cases abroad included 5 adults and a child in France and 5 more people in the UK and Spain. All contracted the virus from the same so-called “superspreader,” a British man who had attended a sales conference in Singapore, also attended by an infected man from the virus epicentre in Wuhan, China. The British man had then hopped to a ski holiday in France, staying at a rented chalet that he shared with friends, before returning home to Britain.

WHO Director General at Monday press briefing

“In recent days we have seen some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China, like the cases reported in France yesterday and the UK today,” said Dr Tedros at the press briefing. “The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire. But for now, it’s only a spark. Our objective remains containment. We call on all countries to use the window of opportunity we have to prevent a bigger fire….We should work hard as one human race to fight this virus before it gets out of control.”

At least eight other cases of the coronavirus among Singaporeans, Koreans and Malaysians have been linked to the private Singapore conference event, according to Bloomberg News reports on those who fell ill. However WHO emergencies head, Mike Ryan, said that it was “too early to consider the Singapore conference cluster as a superspreader event.”

Despite new reports of conference cancellations in Singapore, which has the largest number of cases reported outside of China, Ryan said that WHO isn’t recommending that mass meetings be called off.

“Certainly it’s a concern when people come together and move apart,” Ryan said. “But you can’t shut down the world here. We cant say that we are going to cancel every event. Where is the limit to this?  We need to remain calm and measured, ask what are the risks and how can those risks be minimized?”

Global Research Forum Starts Tuesday – WHO Team In China

Meanwhile, a hastily-convened Global Research and Innovation Forum was due to kick off a meeting at WHO headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday, in a quest to find more answers on treatments for the mysterious virus.

The meeting, involving member states, the private sector, other UN agencies and global research institutions, will review existing knowledge about the nature of the virus, clinical symptoms and its transmission; infection prevention and control, particularly in health care settings; potential drug treatments; and prospects for the rapid development of vaccines.

The aim is to identify target product profiles for new treatments, and then ensure that there is both institutional support as well as financing to roll them out as soon as possible, said Dr Tedros at the press briefing.

“This is an amazing initiative to centralize our knowledge.. to identify the gaps, what are the specific research priorities and how do we accelerate action o n the most needed medical technologies and vaccines.  How are these priorities going to be turned into product profiles? How will those be financed? How are we going to ensure accessibility to the products? This is not just a scientific discourse.. we need to ensure the broader outcomes of that process so that the results are available to all.”

Dr Tedros said he hoped that the forum would serve as a “leapfrog moment, in terms of coherence and priority setting, setting that roadmap so we all travel together in coming months.

Simultaneously a small WHO advance team arrived Monday in Beijing to lay the groundwork for the arrival of a larger group of international researchers, to support the Chinese research and disease control effort.

Ryan said that the international team was planned to include about 10-15 experts, representing “the best of China and the world.” The team would be “fully-empowered” to explore the challenges posed by the virus and opportunities for bringing the epidemic more rapidly under control.  “We need to give them time to interact, to step back and let the scientists do the work and see what they come up with,” said Ryan.

Thirteen African Countries & Iran Equipped with Laboratory Tests for Coronavirus

Meanwhile, thirteen African countries, as well as Iran, have now been specially equipped by WHO with laboratory tests to identify the novel virus.  Those countries included Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.

Another shipment of 150,000 tests is being assembled in Berlin this week, to be sent to more than 80 labs worldwide. These are among the 168 labs globally that have been identified as having the right technology to use the tests, WHO said. Last week the African Centers for Disease Control conducted a training in Senegal with lab technicians from 12 countries on use of the diagnostic tests. Another training will take place in South Africa next week.

“Without vital diagnostic capacity, countries are in the dark as to how far and wide the virus has spread – and who has coronavirus or another disease with similar symptoms,” said Dr. Tedros.

Latest WHO dashboard showing coronavirus epidemic distribution as of Sunday evening. Cases reported as of Monday morning bring the total up to 40,554 worldwide.

Image Credits: WHO .