World Health Organization describes new coronavirus as "a pandemic", adding Italy and Iran were now in frontline of disease and other countries would "soon" join them.

A police officer observes traffic during a coronavirus (COVID-19) check at the border crossing with Italy in Vrtojba, Slovenia, March 11 , 2020.
A police officer observes traffic during a coronavirus (COVID-19) check at the border crossing with Italy in Vrtojba, Slovenia, March 11 , 2020. (Reuters)

Expressing increasing alarm about mounting infections, the World Health Organization declared on Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who heads the UN agency, said the WHO is "deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity" of the outbreak. He also expressed concern about "the alarming levels of inaction."

"We have, therefore, made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," he said at a briefing in Geneva.

"All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response," Tedros said.

The WHO added that Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against the virus that started in China.

"They're suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon," said Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO's emergency chief.

More than 121,500 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and 4,383 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections outside China have been reported by 118 countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo reported its first case, while Indonesia, Lebanon, and Panama had their first fatalities.

This TRT World map shows the global extent of the coronavirus spread as of 0900GMT March 11, 2020.
This TRT World map shows the global extent of the coronavirus spread as of 0900GMT March 11, 2020. (TRTWorld)

Italy's Conte toughens virus lockdown with new measures

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte added new restrictions on Wednesday to the lockdown imposed to fight the coronavirus after figures showed Italy posting the highest daily increase in deaths of any country since the outbreak began.
In a televised address to the nation, Conte said all shops would be shuttered except supermarkets, food stores and chemists, and companies must close all their departments that are not essential to production.
Services such as hairdressers and beauty parlours will also be closed, along with bars and restaurants that cannot guarantee they can keep a distance of at least one metre between customers.

"We will only be able to see the effects of this great effort in a couple of weeks," he said, referring to the daily bulletins announcing the number of new cases and deaths.

The announcement came as Italy's cases soared again, to 12,462 infections and 827 deaths, both numbers second only to China. 

Qatar cases jump

The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Qatar jumped by 238 to 262 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, warning that they were likely a result of community transmission.

"The Ministry of Public Health announced today that it recorded 238 new confirmed cases of coronavirus 2019," the ministry said in a statement.

Qatar said the new cases had been found in quarantine and not mixing out in the public.

Qatar neighbours Saudi Arabia and is home to the long-haul carrier Qatar Airways. 

Work to resume at China epicentre

China announced on Wednesday that key companies can resume work in coronavirus-hit Wuhan, in another sign authorities are confident the quarantined city is winning its battle against the epidemic.

The Hubei provincial government said that Wuhan businesses involved in providing daily necessities, prevention and control of the epidemic, or in the operations of public utilities, are among those that can resume work and production immediately.

Wuhan firms that are key to "global industrial chains" may do so as well, after getting approval, the government added.

Other companies are expected to resume production only after March 20.

The announcement came a day after Hubei authorities loosened travel restrictions, allowing people from medium and low-risk areas to move within the province if their health code is labelled "green".

A mobile app will be used to give residents a coloured health code. Green indicates holders have no contact with virus cases, while those with yellow codes are close contacts.

Confirmed or suspected cases will get a red code and must be quarantined.

Authorities added that outside of Wuhan, a "point-to-point" system will be adopted to send employees back to work, and help those stranded in Hubei to return home.

More schools close

All Polish schools will close starting on Monday to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday. Poland has confirmed 26 cases of the coronavirus. No one has died. Morawiecki added that also universities, museums and cinemas will be closed.

Ukraine's capital Kiev will all close schools and universities from Thursday until the end of March to prevent the spread, city mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Wednesday.

He said the city would also restrict mass events in the capital, including concerts and conferences. Cinemas and entertainment areas in shopping malls will also close.

No plans to shut UK parliament

Britain's parliament has no plans to shut over coronavirus, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday, after a minister tested positive for the virus and another lawmaker was advised to stay at home as a precaution.

Junior health minister Nadine Dorries said she had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating. An opposition lawmaker who met Dorries was also advised to isolate herself by health authorities.

"At present, there are no plans to suspend parliament," a parliamentary spokeswoman said in a statement.

"We are closely following guidance from Public Health England in response to the situation and have been reassured that the measures we are taking are proportionate and appropriate."

Lawmakers have expressed concern that the ageing parliamentary estate is ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak of the virus, and that lawmakers pose a higher risk because they travel a lot and meet people.

Sweden death

Sweden on Wednesday reported its first death from the new coronavirus, health officials said, the first person in the Nordic region to die from the outbreak sweeping the globe.

The victim was an elderly patient with an underlying illness being treated in the intensive care unit of a hospital in the capital, the Region Stockholm health authority said in a statement. 

Neither the age nor the gender of the victim was disclosed.

Three deaths in Belgium

Belgium has recorded its first three deaths from the coronavirus strain that is sweeping the globe, and four staff at the European Commission have taken sick, officials said Wednesday.

The Health Ministry said the first fatalities were a 73-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman who had been in Brussels hospitals and 86-year-old man from a care home in the district of Sint-Genesius-Rode, south of the capital.

"Our hospitals are seeing more and more people with lower respiratory tract infections. This may indicate the beginning of a real epidemic in our country," the ministry warned. 

Iran officials contract virus

Iran's senior vice president and two other Cabinet members have contracted the new coronavirus, a semiofficial news agency reported Wednesday as the death toll in the Islamic Republic from the outbreak rose by 62 to 354. 

The report by the Fars news agency, believed to be close to Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, comes as President Hassan Rouhani took control of the country's much-criticized response to the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. Authorities announced that there were some 9,000 confirmed cases of the virus across Iran. 

Kuwait halts work

Kuwait announced late Wednesday the oil-rich nation would close down all work and business for two weeks beginning Thursday. 

Flights would halt to the nation from Friday, the country said. It has over 70 confirmed cases of the new virus. 

Restaurants, cafes and health clubs also will be closed, the state-run KUNA news agency reported. 

Cases spike in Bahrain

In the Gulf Arab island nation of Bahrain, authorities say their number of confirmed cases on Wednesday spiked by nearly 70 percent to 189 confirmed cases. 

The 77 new cases were all on a returning flight of Bahraini evacuees from Iran.

Lebanon reported its second death on Wednesday saying a 53-year-old man died of the virus. 

The Health Ministry said 37 percent of the cases reported in Lebanon originated from four countries: Egypt, Iran, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

Also, the country's restaurant association said all restaurants around the country will be closed until further notice, though delivery services will continue.

Cases in Palestine and Israel

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a $2.8 billion rescue package to stabilise the economy as it grapples with the virus. 

The money will double a previously announced fund to help businesses hit by the crisis to $2.4 billion. It also includes roughly $280 million for the health sector. 

"The Israeli economy is in a better situation than most economies in the world," Netanyahu said. "However, we have a great challenge here," he added. "In our view, we can also deal with it in a way that will allow us to get through it successfully in peace."

Israel has diagnosed a total of 77 cases of the virus. It has imposed a number of restrictions, including two weeks of home quarantine for anyone arriving from overseas.

There are 26 confirmed cases in the Palestinian Territories. 

India suspends tourist visas 

India on Wednesday suspended all tourist visas until April 15 and said it would quarantine travellers arriving from seven virus-hit countries in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, the government said in a statement.

The visa suspension begins March 13 at 1200 GMT at the port of departure, the statement read. Diplomatic visas and visas for international organsations, employment and projects, however, are exempt.

All travellers "arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after February 15 will be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days," the statement from the government's Press Information Bureau said.

Americas

Argentina, Colombia and Peru on Wednesday announced that travellers from the countries worst-affected by the new coronavirus would be isolated on arrival.

Argentina was the first country in Latin America to register a coronavirus-related death on Saturday, with Panama announcing another on Tuesday.

Buenos Aires announced a two-week isolation period for people arriving from China, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

"This is not voluntary, it's not a recommendation. If you don't comply you'll be committing a crime, which is putting the public health at risk," President Alberto Fernandez told FM Delta radio station.

"The person who complies with the 14-day quarantine is obliged to shut himself away at home alone."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies