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WHO raises global risk of coronavirus spread to ‘very high’

COVID-19: World Health Organization raises impact risk to ‘very high’
WATCH: COVID-19: World Health Organization raises impact risk to 'very high'

The World Health Organization has raised its risk assessment on COVID-19 to “very high,” the organization announced Friday.

“We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level,” WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference. This is the highest risk assessment they have, officials said.

Over the last day, the total number of countries reporting cases of novel coronavirus disease has risen to nearly 60, bringing the total number of global cases to more than 83,000.

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“What we see at the moment are linked epidemics of COVID-19 in several countries, but most cases can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases,” Tedros said. “We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities.

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“As long as that’s the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus if robust action is taken to detect cases and isolate and care for patients and trace contacts.”

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Some of the new countries announcing cases include Nigeria and Mexico. Both countries’ cases are linked to travellers from Italy.

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“The continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries over the last few days is clearly of concern,” Tedros said.

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China’s 329 reported cases in the past 24 hours was, however, the lowest there in more than a month, Tedros said. Recently, the number of new cases announced daily outside China has outstripped the number of new cases within China.

According to the WHO’s Dr. Mike Ryan, raising the risk level doesn’t have any legal implications or obligate countries to take action. Rather, he said, it serves as a warning for countries to be alert for cases appearing within their borders and to act swiftly to contain them.

“Raising the risk to very high is essentially reflecting what’s actually happening at a global level: more countries, some countries struggling with containment, and therefore heightening that level of alert,” he said.

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— with a file from Reuters