Rates of the Covid-19 coronavirus have continued to spike across Europe with new instances confirmed in France, Italy and Germany as the number of cases outside China outstripped those within the East Asian nation for the first time since the virus’s emergence.
The flu-like illness gained a further foothold in Europe with France reporting an additional death and Germany announcing new cases without clear origins in China, which is believed to have been the point of origin for the virus.
Meanwhile in Italy, where the virus has quickly spread following infections in 10 towns in the north, health officials confirmed 400 people had been infected in total while 12 people had died.
The day marked the first in which there were more cases in the rest of the world than were announced in China, fuelling concerns the spread of the disease may teeter into a pandemic.
Beijing confirmed 411 cases of the virus on Wednesday, while the WHO counted 427 among other countries across the globe.
The virus was also observed in all of the planet’s habitable continents for the first time. In a 24 hour period initial cases were announced in Romania, Norway, Georgia, North Macedonia, Greece, Pakistan, Algeria and Brazil.
So far the virus, which is believed to have originated in a market in Wuhan, central China, has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700.
Berlin’s health Minister Jens Spahn warned his nation was on the cusp of an epidemic, telling a news conference “The infection chains are partially no longer trackable, and that is a new thing.
“Large numbers of people have had contact with the patients, and that is a big change to the 16 patients we had until now where the chain could be traced back to the origin in China.”
The continued spread has led to more stringent plans to contain the outbreak, with Kuwait chartering a flight into Milan to evacuate citizens from the Italian city.
In Israel citizens have been warned off travel altogether, while Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended entry into the country for those seeking to make the pilgrimage to Mecca or visit the al Masjid al Nabawy in Medina.
In the UK at least eight schools have closed with a number sending students home after returning from trips to the north of Italy amid concerns pupils and staff may have been infected.
Among those sent home were four from Thomas’s in Battersea, the primary school attended by Prince George and Princess Charlotte. In a statement a spokesman for the school said they made up “a very small number of pupils who have been tested” and were undertaking self-quarantining measures as a precaution.
However, despite the growing spread of the virus, World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised diplomats in Geneva against speaking of a pandemic – which the body defines as the worldwide spread of a new disease.
“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralysing systems,” he said.
“It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.”
On Wednesday evening Donald Trump sought to downplay the possibility of a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus inside the United States, calling the risk “low” a day after his top health officials signaled the virus inevitably would reach US soil.
The president described his administration as “very, very ready” to deal with the virus, touting a Johns Hopkins University study of countries best prepared to deal with a pandemic. The US was ranked first, Mr Trump noted, and noted none of the 15 known American cases have pushed those victims towards death. He said all 15 have “fully recovered” or are expected to do so.
He put vice president Mike Pence “in charge” of the government’s efforts, saying his experiences as governor of Indiana on health issues make him qualified to take the lead. He did, however, strike a bipartisan tone about funding to fight the coronavirus. He has pitched a $2.5bn emergency funding package, but Senate and House Democrats want as much as $8.5bn in emergency dollars to fight it.
Earlier stock market unease prompted the president to lash out at the nation’s media, who he claimed had exacerbated the threat posed by coronavirus. He claimed MSNBC and CNN “are doing everything possible to make the Coronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible”.
It’s estimated that some $3 trillion (£2.3 trillion) has been wiped off the value of firms on global stock markets in the past four days.