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The global danger posed by the coronavirus continues to strengthen as Europe and the Middle East face an increased threat.
Over the weekend, Italian officials announced that there was a spike in cases with nearly 150 people infected and three dead. Last week, Italy had just five confirmed cases.
The outbreak is centered around the Lombardy region of northern Italy, which includes the popular tourist city of Milan. In response, the government is imposing strict closures on major attractions, schools and businesses.
In Iran, the virus is even more widespread. Six deaths have been reported across 12 provinces. The country is also locking down public places in an attempt to control the spread.
The increase in cases in Europe and the Middle East, far away from the epicenter of the virus in Wuhan, China, is causing concern among health officials. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, said that it was still possible to contain the virus outside of China, but warned that “the window of opportunity was narrowing.”
Although the risk outside China remains relatively small, “the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case," is a concern, he said.
In order for a virus to be labeled a pandemic, it needs to be sufficiently spread around the world, not just one continent. While many countries around the world have had cases of the virus, it has largely been contained within China, with most cases outside the country involving Chinese nationals. With pandemic status, that dynamic would change.
With the looming threat of larger transmission throughout the country, Italy is trying to respond strongly without stoking fears.
Over the weekend, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte reiterated that “extraordinary measures” would be put in place to combat the virus, and that there was no reason for panic.
“Worry is understandable, [but] panic, no,” he said.
In Iran, some officials were more blunt in their assessment. According to Minou Mohrez, an official on the infectious disease committee of the Iranian Health Ministry, the threat in Iran was clear.
“A coronavirus epidemic has started in the country,” she said. “It’s possible that it exists in all cities in Iran.”
“We are wondering about the potential for more cases to be exported in the coming days. We want all countries to be aware of this and to put in place detailed measures to pick up these cases as early as possible,” she added.