powerofflowers/iStock(NEW YORK) — As clusters of novel coronavirus continue to pop up around the globe, the United States is grappling with how to prepare for an outbreak on American soil.
Here is how the situation is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
12:45 p.m. New coronavirus cases outside of China exceed cases in China for the first time
New cases of COVID-19 reported in countries outside of China exceeded the number of new cases reported within China for the first time, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said at a mission briefing in Geneva Wednesday.
Only 10 new cases of novel coronavirus were reported in China outside of Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Tuesday.
Tedros called the surge of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea "deeply concerning," but said the world is not yet witnessing "sustained or intensive community transmission of the virus," nor are we "witnessing large-scale severe disease or death."
In recent days, Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland have reported COVID-19 cases linked to Italy, while Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Pakistan have reported COVID-19 cases linked to Iran.
"We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts," Tedros added, noting that if the situation evolves to accurately describe a pandemic, he would not hesitate to use the word.
12:18 p.m. State Department issues new travel advisories, Delta suspends flights to South Korea
The State Department updated its travel advisory for Italy Wednesday to include warnings about COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the country.
"Italian government authorities are working to identify how and where these people were infected," the advisory reads. "The CDC has issued a Level 2 Travel Health Notice for Italy. At this time, CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to Italy."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that older adults and people with chronic medical conditions consider postponing non-essential travel to Italy.
The State Department similarly changed its travel advisory for Iran to include warnings about novel coronavirus. The travel warning for Iran remains at Level 4, meaning Americans should not travel there.
Although there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in Mongolia, the U.S. embassy authorized non-emergency personnel and their families to depart the country, which is under strict restrictions because Mongolia borders China, where the outbreak began. The State Department raised its travel advisory for to Mongolia to Level 3, advising them to "reconsider travel" to Mongolia. Should a U.S. citizen choose to travel to Mongolia, they should have a plan to depart that does not rely on U.S. government help.
Meanwhile, Delta Airlines suspended certain flights to South Korea "due to global health concerns related to coronavirus," the airline said in a statement Wednesday. Suspended flights include routes between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seoul, between Feb. 29 through April 30, as well as a reduction in service between Seoul and Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle through April 30.
11:07 a.m. Jamaican and Grand Cayman authorities refuse cruise ship
Authorities in Jamaica and Grand Cayman would not allow the MSC Merviglia cruise ship to disembark on their shores, a decision that was made without reviewing the ship's medical records, the cruise line claimed in a statement Wednesday.
The ship had not passed through any territories affected by COVID-19 and no passengers onboard had tested positive for the virus. One crew member was diagnosed with common seasonal flu and is in stable condition and receiving anti-viral treatment and medication.
"In both instances, the ship was effectively turned away simply based on fears" MSC said in a statement. The ship's next scheduled port of call is in Cozumel, Mexico.
10:11 a.m. Brazil reports first COVID-19 case in Latin America
Brazil reported its first case of novel coronavirus on Wednesday, in a 61-year-old man who traveled to Italy, marking the first COVID-19 case that's been confirmed in Latin America.
President Donald Trump continued to express confidence Wednesday that the novel coronavirus outbreak infecting more than 80,000 people globally will "go away," even as an American soldier based in South Korea became the first U.S. Service member to be diagnosed with the disease.
"It looks like they're getting it under control, more and more," Trump told reporters outside the White House in Washington, D.C. "So I think that's a problem that's going to go away."
The president acknowledged that the recent drop in the financial markets amid fears over a potential pandemic was "pretty bad" and a "very serious thing," but he said "we think we are in very good shape in the United States."
"Let's see how it all works out," he added, "but I think it's going to work out fine."
U.S. military officials confirmed Wednesday that a 23-year-old U.S. Forces Korea soldier stationed at the Camp Carroll Army base near Daegu is currently in self-quarantine at his off-base residence after testing positive for the newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19, which originated in China.
The soldier's diagnosis prompted U.S. Forces Korea to raise its risk level to "high" on Wednesday, "out of a strong abundance of caution and utilizing the USFK Commander's authorities to protect the USFK population from COVID-19," according to a press release.
The Trump administration is seeking $1.25 billion in emergency funding to combat the new coronavirus — a request which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called "long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency."
South Korea has the second-highest national total of coronavirus cases behind China. As of Wednesday, South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's recorded 1,146 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 11 fatalities.
The recent spike in cases has also led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday to raise its travel warning to the highest level for Americans contemplating travel to South Korea.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Americans should be preparing for the virus' arrival and a "significant disruption of our lives."
"Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It's not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Messonnier said at a press conference Tuesday. "I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming, and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now."
So far, there has been no community spread in the United States. Forty-three people repatriated on charter flights from Wuhan, China, and from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan have tested positive for COVID-19, and 15 cases have been detected in the United States via the country's health system. Among those 57 cases, only two involved human transmissions in the country, and those transmissions were among members of the same household.
"As more and more countries experience community spread," Messonnier added, "successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder."
Meanwhile, Italy reported another spike in new infections overnight. As of Wednesday, the Italian Ministry of Health said it's recorded 322 confirmed cases and 10 fatalities. About 75% of those cases were in the northern Lombardy region, prompting some towns to suspend public gatherings, demonstrations and sporting events and to close schools, businesses and restaurants.
The first cases in Italy were linked to Chinese tourists, according to the health ministry.
The new coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December. As of Wednesday, China's National Health Commission said it's received 78,064 reports of confirmed cases and 2,715 deaths on the Chinese mainland. More than 83% of the cases and all but one death were in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan. Chinese authorities have since placed the city under lockdown.
An additional 126 confirmed infections have been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan, with two deaths in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan, according to China's National Health Commission.
Outside of China, there are at least 2,459 cases confirmed in 33 nations, resulting in at least 34 fatalities, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, which has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.
Although the virus "absolutely" has the potential to become a pandemic, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it's still too soon to classify it that way.
Bruce Aylward, an epidemiologist who led a team of international experts in China, said that the epidemic is slowing there. It's impossible to know if this trend of decreasing infections will continue, but for now, Aylward thinks China's response to the outbreak, which included rapidly building hospitals and imposing strict lockdown measures in cities hardest hit by the virus, is working.
"The implications are that you can actually affect the course of this disease, but it takes a very aggressive and tough program," Aylward said at a WHO press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.
Japan has the third-highest national total, when including the nearly 700 cases diagnosed aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The cruise ship has been quarantined at Yokohama port since Feb. 5 and 691 people on board have tested positive for COVID-19. Three passengers have died, all of whom were Japanese nationals and in their 80s, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
All those who have been infected were brought ashore for treatment, while the rest were confined to their rooms until the quarantine period ends. Passengers who have tested negative for the virus disembarked the ship last week.
Beyond the cruise ship, an additional 157 cases have been confirmed in Japan, according to the WHO.
Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters Wednesday that the International Olympic Committee and local organizers are going as planned with the 2020 Summer Olympics, set to open in Tokyo on July 24.
Iran now has the highest death toll from the outbreak outside of China as cases rapidly spread across the country. At least 139 cases have been confirmed in Iran, along with 19 deaths, according to the country's state-run news agency.
Among those infected is Iran's deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, who is head of the national headquarters tasked with containing the coronavirus outbreak.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday there are no immediate plans to quarantine virus-hit cities.
Meanwhile, a cluster of cases has popped up at a tourist hotel on the island of Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands.
The Costa Adeje Palace hotel has been placed under quarantine with some 800 guests confined to their rooms while health workers test everyone for COVID-19. At least four people have tested positive so far, public health officials for the Canary Islands told ABC News on Wednesday.
A doctor from Italy's virus-hit Lombardy region was the first guest from the hotel to be diagnosed. He and his wife, who tested negative, were transported to a local hospital where they were both placed in isolation, officials said.
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