'Reality check': WHO takes urgent step as countries ban large events

The risk of the global spread of the coronavirus has been lifted to ‘very high’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is the highest level of risk assessment.

More than 83,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, with 78,824 of them being confirmed in mainland China, where the death toll sits at 2788.

Now, more than 50 countries have reported confirmed cases of the virus.

The World Health Organisation has declared the risk of the coronavirus spreading globally as 'very high'. Source: Getty Images

At a press conference in Geneva, Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's Emergency Health Programme, said the upgraded risk level was meant to serve as a “reality check” for governments around the world as healthcare systems are still not prepared, according to the BBC.

"You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready," Dr Ryan said.

Events cancelled and schools shut down

The same press conference came hours after the Swiss government implemented an immediate ban on public and private event with more than 1000 people until March 15.

Geneva’s international car show has also been cancelled, which was scheduled to start next week and is considered to be one of the industry’s most important gatherings.

On Friday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared for all schools to close in a bid to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Japan has more than 200 confirmed cases of the virus, not including the more than 700 cases on a quarantined cruise ship, Diamond Princess. Four people have died of the virus in Japan.

Audience members wearing face masks at a J.League football match between Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F. Marinos in Kobe. The Japanese government has urged people to avoid large gatherings, and Tokyo's government has cancelled some large public events over coronavirus fears. Source: AFP

The country’s schools ate slated to remain shut until the start of the next academic year in early April.

The unprecedented move was criticised by health officials and analysts, with the latter labelling the plan as “politically motivated”.

Earlier in the week, the government urged the scrapping or curtailing of large gatherings, sports fixtures and cultural events, but pledged the 2020 summer Olympic Games would go ahead in Tokyo.

Dr Ryan also said there were discussions being held, discussing whether or not the event will go ahead.

While the outbreak is easing in China, cases reported are surging elsewhere.

Mexico, Nigeria, Estonia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Lithuania reported their first cases, all with travel history connected to Italy, the worst-affected European country.

Italy’s death toll has risen to 21 and 821 people have tested possible, while Germany has 60 cases, France has 38 and Spain with 23, according to Reuters.

Dr Ryan also said Iran’s outbreak may be worse than initially thought, with the highest death count outside China, 34.

The deadly coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has increased rapidly in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East in recent days. Source: Keith Tsuji / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AAP

South Korea has the most cases outside of China, with 571 new infections on Friday, bringing the total of cases to 2337 with 13 people dead.

Hong Kong authorities have confirmed they have quarantined a pet dog of a coronavirus patient.

The dog’s nasal and oral samples tested a “weak positive” for the coronavirus, however authorities have stated it is not yet clear whether the disease can be transmitted to pets.

Two more cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Australia, taking the total to 25.

A 63-year-old woman who has recently returned from Iran is in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital, while a 79-year-old west Australian woman has tested positive after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

The Australian government is already putting in place plans to tackle a pandemic.

In particular, it is looking at how aged care facilities could be locked down in the case of a coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says while some countries such as Japan are looking at closing schools, there is no need to do that in Australia based on current medical advice.

However, the virus known as COVID-19 affects the elderly more.

"The bigger impact would be in things like aged care facilities, the ability to lock those down, and to have the right care and support to those who are working in those places," Mr Morrison said on Friday.

Health ministers who met in Melbourne on Friday agreed the Commonwealth would take the lead on an aged care advanced planning process.

“Those who are elderly or those who have difficulties with their immune system are most at risk and that is why they are absolute top priority,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

– with AAP and Reuters

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