ROME: Coronavirus cases spread in Europe and beyond on Wednesday, with Latin America confirming its first patient as the world scrambled to contain the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands worldwide.

New cases have emerged across Europe, many linked to the continent’s coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy, amid warnings from health experts to rein in hysteria over the virus as it continues its march beyond China’s borders.

The novel coronavirus has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries. The vast majority of cases remain in China.

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday more new cases were now being recorded outside China than inside the country, where the deadly virus first emerged in late December.

In a sign of the virus’ expanding footprint, Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first case, a 61-year-old who travelled to Italy’s Lombardy region.

Greece also confirmed its first case on Wednesday, a woman who had been in northern Italy, while Spain, Croatia, Austria, North Macedonia and Algeria have all reported cases linked to the country.

Several governments have advised against travel to Italy — which has 374 cases and 12 deaths — particularly to the outbreak’s epicentre in the north.

Even as new cases continued to multiply beyond China’s borders, the European Union sought to head off hysteria over the outbreak. “This is a situation of concern, but we must not give in to panic,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters in Rome on Wednesday.

“We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation,” she added.

The impact of the virus has moved beyond health systems. Markets have wobbled in recent days — though Wall Street stocks jumped back on Wednesday — while sports matches and festivals across Europe have been cancelled over virus fears.

As cases mounted across Europe, World Health Organisation warned governments in Europe to remain vigilant.

“You have to keep up and sustain these efforts so that no one is left behind because ultimately health is a political choice,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge in Rome on Wednesday.

‘Potential pandemic’

The virus is believed to have emerged in a market in Wuhan city in China’s Hubei province in late 2019, where it may have been transmitted to a human from an animal.

China imposed extraordinary quarantine measures in several cities, locking in tens of millions of people as it sought to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The country announced on Wednesday that people arriving in Beijing from other countries hit by the virus epidemic would go into 14-day self-quarantine.

The WHO has praised Beijing for its response, though the communist government has faced criticism at home for silencing a whistle-blowing doctor who has since died from the disease.

The WHO has called for countries to “prepare for a potential pandemic” — an epidemic that spreads throughout the world — even as new cases and deaths in China have continued to dip from previous numbers.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020