The World Health Organisation has signalled a new ray of hope to combat the coronavirus outbreak after announcing another spike in the death toll from the virus it is calling “public enemy No.1”.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes the first vaccine could be ready in 18 months, saying there is a “realistic chance” that “rational and evidence-based interventions” will be able to stop the spread of the epidemic.
It comes as the organisations announced a new identity for the flu-like illness, ahead of a meeting of more than 400 scientists from around the world who will convene to discuss solutions. From now on, authorities will use the label “Covid-19” – a name that deliberately avoids hints at its country of origin, to save sufferers from being further stigmatised.
Overnight on Tuesday, the number of fatalities confirmed in mainland China hit 1017, while 42,708 people have been infected.
Dr Ghebreyesus said from Geneva that the world needed to “wake up” to a threat more serious than terrorism.
“To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, economic and social upheaval than any terrorist attack,” he said.
“A virus can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action.”
But a look at the world showed the numbers of new cases were falling in parts, Chinese government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan said.
The epidemiologist, who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of SARS in 2003, even said coronavirus infections “may be over” by April, with the epidemic looking set to peak in February.
Only 319 cases have been confirmed in 24 other countries and territories outside mainland China, with two deaths: one in Hong Kong and the other in the Philippines.
In Switzerland, Dr Ghebreyesus urged wealthy countries to “invest in preparedness”, as the outbreak still posed a “very grave threat for the rest of the world”.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 11, 2020
Perhaps even more concerning was Covid-19’s ability to “create havoc” if it spread to countries with weak health systems, Dr Ghebreyesus said.
WHO executive director Dr Michael Ryan said “one clinical trial is already on the way” in China to develop an effective vaccine or cure.
He hoped China, with WHO’s help, would be able to establish more clinical trials soon.
Chinese state media reported Chinese President Xi Jinping saying on Tuesday that prevention and control work on the coronavirus was having positive results and the country would win the battle against the virus.
Across the globe, thousands of people remain trapped on cruise ships that were placed in lockdown – but not all have confirmed cases aboard.
There are currently four stationary ships with well over 5000 passengers who are being monitored or quarantined as health officials seek to contain the spread.
They are Diamond Princess, Westerdam, World Dream and The Anthem of the Seas.
The Diamond Princess, which is moored off Yokohama, Japan, is the main concern. It has 135 people confirmed infections, 11 of them Australians.
No passengers on board the other three ships tested positive for the coronavirus.