WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva the vaccine lag meant “we have to do everything today using available weapons” and said the epidemic posed a “very grave threat”.
“To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, economic and social upheaval than any terrorist attack,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
“A virus can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action.
The coronavirus has claimed the lives of 1,017 people in mainland China, where there were 42,708 cases.
Only 319 cases have been confirmed in 24 other countries and territories outside mainland China, with two deaths: one in Hong Kong and the other in the Philippines.
Dr Ghebreyesus said the virus had been named COVID-19, explaining that it was important to avoid stigma and that other names could be inaccurate.
He urged countries to step up measures to detect and contain the virus, especially in at least 30 countries with weaker health systems, where it could “create havoc”.
“With 99 per cent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” he said.
He referred to “some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China”, citing cases this week in France and Britain.
“The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire. But for now it’s only a spark. Our objective remains containment,” he said.
Britain’s ‘super-spreader’ speaks
A British man dubbed a “super-spreader” of the virus spoke for the first time on Tuesday (local time), saying his thoughts were with those affected as he remained quarantined in a London hospital despite fully recovering.
Steve Walsh, 53, unwittingly infected 11 other people with coronavirus after catching the disease in Singapore before travelling to a French ski resort, and then returning to his hometown of Hove on the English coast.
It is believed six of the eight cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom are linked to him.
In a statement released by Guy’s Hospital in London, Mr Walsh thanked the National Health Service for its help and care.
“As soon as I knew I had been exposed to a confirmed case of coronavirus I contacted my GP, NHS 111 and Public Health England,” he said.
“I was advised to attend an isolated room at hospital, despite showing no symptoms, and subsequently self-isolated at home as instructed.
“When the diagnosis was confirmed I was sent to an isolation unit in hospital, where I remain, and, as a precaution, my family was also asked to isolate themselves.”
Parts of Hove and nearby Brighton where Mr Walsh and people he infected often frequented have been placed in isolation.
Meanwhile, British media outlets reported two prisoners were being tested for the coronavirus.
The men are being held in isolation in their cells at the Bullingdon jail in Oxfordshire. The prison has a capacity for more than 1,100 inmates and Public Health England was on site to manage the situation, according to reports.
Potential new case of Australian infected on cruise ship
The news came as the Australian embassy in Japan said it had been advised of a new potential Australian coronavirus case on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
In an email to the hundreds of Australians on board, the consular team said it was aware of a possible new Australian case of the virus on the ship, which is moored in Yokohama.
It would be the 12th confirmed Australian case. There have been 135 confirmed infections on board, with more than 400 people tested.
“We are following up for more information, and will provide any support and assistance to them that is required,” the email from consular staff and obtained by the ABC said.
“The [infected] Australians we are currently supporting in hospital all remain stable and are recovering.”
Hopes epidemic will be ‘over by April’
Meanwhile, China’s senior medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, told Reuters the coronavirus outbreak may be over by April.
He said the numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.
“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” Dr Zhong said.
Dr Zhong, 83, is an epidemiologist who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003.
As the epidemic squeezed the world’s second-biggest economy, Chinese firms struggled to get back to work after the extended Lunar New Year holiday, hundreds of them saying they would need loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat.
Company layoffs were beginning despite assurances by President Xi Jinping that widespread sackings would be avoided, as supply chains for global firms from car manufacturers to smartphone makers ruptured.