The global community should increase preparedness for a coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned as the New York stock exchange plummeted.
Officials from WHO said it was too early to label the outbreak a pandemic but countries should be "in a phase of preparedness," reports the BBC.
The warning came as coronavirus infections spread outside China – the country where the virus started in December. There are 77,000 Chinese infected and nearly 2,600 have died but new cases are now falling.
But about 30 other nations have confirmed more than 1200 cases and there have been over 20 deaths. In Italy the death toll jumped to seven.
"For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing larger scale severe disease or death," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.
"Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet."
"The key message that should give all countries hope, courage and confidence is that this virus can be contained, indeed there are many countries that have done exactly that," Tedros said.
The term pandemic comes from Greek for "of all the people", but WHO says using it will make little difference to combating the coronavirus outbreak.
"Using the word 'pandemic' now does not fit the facts but may certainly cause fear." Tedros said.
"That will not prevent a single infection today, or save a single life."
But the WHO emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said while the drop in reported Chinese cases "goes against the logic of pandemic", countries should "do everything you would do to prepare for a pandemic".
The number of people sickened by the coronavirus has topped 79,000 globally.
Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumpedmore than 800 points on Monday (US time) amid a broad global markets sell-off as a surge in virus cases and a worrisome spread of the disease outside China sent investors running for safety.
The selling, which lost some of its momentum toward the end of the day, wiped out all of the Dow's gains for the year and had the benchmark S&P 500 on track for its worst day since August.
China still has the vast majority of cases, but as it records lower levels of new infections, attention has shifted to new fronts in the outbreak.
Chief among them is South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in placed the country under a red alert, the highest level, allowing for "unprecedented, powerful steps" to stem the crisis.
Across the world, stock markets and futures dipped on fears of a global slowdown due to the virus spread, with the Dow down more than 900 points.
Source: 9News https://www.9news.com.au/world/coronavirus-pandemic-risk-warns-world-health-organisation/a5809af2-73fc-4f8c-be7c-9251d7d5444c