Coronavirus poses greater global threat than terrorism, leading doctors warn

12 February 2020, 01:50 | Updated: 12 February 2020, 11:42

The coronavirus is "the worst enemy you can ever imagine" and poses a greater global threat than terrorism, the World Health Organisation has warned.

Urging the world to "wake up" and be as aggressive as possible in tackling the outbreak, the UN health agency has given a new name to the disease that has sickened more than 44,600 people.

It is now going to be officially known as COVID-19 - CO stands for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged.

Chinese health officials have expressed hope that the outbreak will be over in April, but the head of the World Health Organisation was far less optimistic.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the first vaccine for COVID-19 was 18 months away, adding: "To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, social and economic upheaval than any terrorist attack. It's the worst enemy you can imagine."

WHO officials added that they have gone to great lengths to ensure the name did not refer to a geographical location, animal or group of people.

In other developments:

  • Deaths from COVID-19 pass 1,100; total cases near 45,000
  • 2,015 new cases confirmed on 11 February - the fewest since 30 January
  • An A&E; worker at Worthing Hospital is among the eight confirmed UK cases
  • Two prisoners being tested in Oxfordshire - one had recently transferred from a Thai jail
  • Another 39 test positive on Diamond Princess ship off Japan, bringing total to 169
  • British man believed to be a "superspreader" identified as businessman Steve Walsh
  • The only two deaths outside mainland China remain one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines
  • Bank of England governor says virus "already bigger than SARS" from economic perspective

Details of British cases emerge

The Department of Health has stressed that all services at Worthing Hospital - including surgeries and outpatient appointments - are continuing normally despite an A&E; worker being diagnosed with COVID-19.

It is understood this is not the same person as the locum doctor working in Brighton, who is also one of the eight confirmed cases in the UK.

Two GP surgeries in Brighton that were closed due to the virus have now re-opened.

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Meanwhile, two prisoners at HMP Bullingdon in Oxfordshire are being held in isolation as they are tested for the coronavirus - and access to that wing has been restricted.

The prison, which has capacity for 1,114 inmates, remains operational.

Thai officials have told Sky News that they do not believe prisoner Mark John Rumble, who was transferred to the UK, had coronavirus when he left the country.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that anyone concerned about the coronavirus should "simply take the advice" of the NHS.

He added: "We are a great country, we have got a fantastic NHS, we have got fantastic doctors."

The British man believed to be a "superspreader" of the coronavirus has said he has fully recovered after being diagnosed in Brighton on 6 February with COVID-19.

Steve Walsh contracted the virus while at a business conference in Singapore before going to the French Alps for a ski holiday, and then returning to his home in Hove, East Sussex.

The 53-year-old appears to have unwittingly infected 11 other Britons who were in France with him. Five of those Britons are now in the UK, five are in France and one is in Majorca.

He is still in quarantine at St Thomas' Hospital in London, and said in a statement: "I would like to thank the NHS for their help and care - whilst I have fully recovered, my thoughts are with others who have contracted coronavirus."

New cases confirmed on cruise ship

Japan's health ministry has said that 39 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed on the cruise ship currently quarantined off the coast of Yokohama.

Foreign nationals are among the latest people to be diagnosed.

A total of 174 cases have now been identified aboard the Diamond Princess - a British man who was on his honeymoon is among them.

Health officials have been conducting medical checks on all of the ship's 3,700 passengers and crew - but a quarantine officer is among those who have now fallen ill.

A total of 78 British passport holders are on board the luxury cruise liner, and a 14-day quarantine continues.

A second cruise ship, which has been refused entry into several ports but does not have any cases of the virus among those on board, has now been given permission to dock in Cambodia.

Economic impact

Stock markets around the world surged to record highs on Tuesday after Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese medical adviser who played a role in combating the SARS outbreak in 2003, predicted that COVID-19 cases will peak this month.

But even if the epidemic ends soon, the coronavirus will have a lasting impact on China's economy.

Some companies have already begun to lay off workers, while others say they will need loans running into billions of dollars if they are going to stay afloat.

There is another dilemma. The virus could further spread if businesses start reopening in China - but if they don't, there are fears that medical supplies could run low.

Postal operators in the US, China and elsewhere have also said that the suspension of flights is having a major impact on global flows of letters and parcels.

Reports suggest that top health officials in Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan is based, have been relieved of their duties following criticism their response to the crisis was too slow and ineffective.

'Too early to say epidemic is in decline' - analysis by Thomas Moore, science correspondent

It's far too soon to say that the COVID-19 epidemic in China is in decline.

Figures released by the country's health ministry show there were 2,015 new cases in the last 24 hours, down from 2,478 the previous day and 3,062 the day before that.

But two days of declining numbers isn't long enough to point to a trend.

New cases have been fluctuating up and down from day to day for the last week: 3,694 to 3,143 to 3,399 to 2,656 to 3,062 to 2,478 to 2,015.

It may be that the travel restrictions extended Chinese New Year holiday and factory closures have interrupted the transmission, as they were designed to do.

But it may also be that reports of new cases take longer to filter through from some parts of China, so they are coming in batches.

Diseases also have a habit of flaring up again, just like a wildfire.

Some factories are beginning to reopen, which will give the virus new opportunities to spread.

Epidemiologists are extremely cautious about claiming victory over a disease.

With the Ebola epidemic in West Africa the World Health Organisation waited 42 days with no cases - twice the incubation period - before declaring it over.