The World Health Organisation has urged the international community to step up efforts to stem the coronavirus outbreak amid worrying infection trends in Iran and South Korea.
“The window of opportunity is still there but our window of opportunity is narrowing,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing in Geneva on Saturday morning Australian time.
His warning follows cases of the COVID-19 virus that appear to have no link to China.
Iranian health officials said the virus may already be in “all Iran’s cities”.
Italy has announced 16 fresh cases and schools and offices are being closed, and sports events cancelled in the affected regions.
Outside China at least 1152 cases of the virus have been confirmed in 26 countries with eight deaths, including two deaths in South Korea.
While initial infections in South Korea were linked to China, the latest ones have not involved international travel.
South Korea has the biggest cluster of confirmed cases outside China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan.
Australian COVID-19 cases rise to 19
Four people brought back to Australia from the Diamond Princess have tested positive to the virus.
Two Queensland women aged 54 and 55 tested positive on Friday night for the infection after leaving the ship on Thursday and will be flown to a Brisbane hospital on Saturday for further treatment.
Earlier, two other Australians were conformed to have contracted the disease.
A 78-year-old man from Western Australia was transferred to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth on Friday. His wife was to travel with him but then be isolated at home for two weeks.
A 24-year-old woman from South Australia has been transferred to Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Authorities say the virus may be in all of Iran’s cities. Photo: Getty
The WHO warning came as Ukraine’s effort to quarantine more than 70 people flown in from China over the coronavirus have plunged into chaos as local residents opposing the move engaged in violent clashes with police.
Buses carrying evacuees were finally able to reach the designated place of quarantine after hours of clashes.
Earlier, several hundred residents in Ukraine’s Poltava region blocked the road to a sanitarium where the evacuees are to be quarantined because they feared they could become infected.
Demonstrators put up road blocks, burned tyres and resisted riot police who moved to clear access.
More than 10 people were detained, and Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov personally visited the site of the protests to try to calm the crowd down.
Mr Avakov urged the protesters “not to fall for provocations and be understanding of the necessity for these temporary measures”.
On Friday, a plane carrying 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign citizens took off from Wuhan – the epicentre of the virus outbreak – and eventually arrived in Kharkiv.
Authorities in the Chinese province of Hubei have also revised the number of new cases it reported on February 19 to 775, from 349 previously.
Provincial authorities said they would add back some cases to their tally of the disease after they adjusted their methodology to count only cases that were detected with genetic tests rather than with CT scans.
Officials later concluded that it was a mistake to have removed cases that were already counted.
Its previous tally of 349 cases was the lowest it reported since January 25.
Hubei Party secretary Ying Yong on late Friday ordered the cases to be added back to the tally and said that whoever removed them would be held responsible, Tu Yuanchao, a senior official at Hubei’s health commission said.