The risk of the coronavirus outbreak’s global spread and impact is at its highest possible level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.
The level has been raised to “very high” from “high” by WHO and brings the rest of the world in line with China, which was already at “very high”.
This means that an “immediate response” – within hours – is required as soon as a COVID-19 case is suspected.
However, it would be a “big mistake” to switch from a public health strategy of containment to mitigation, where authorities accept the coronavirus is spreading, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
He added: “Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously, and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level.
“We are not underestimating the risk, that is why we said today the global risk is very high; we increased it from high to very high.”
Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergency programme chief, added: “We are on the highest level of alert and highest level in terms of spread and of impact. But that is not in order to alarm or scare people.
“People need to take a reality check now and really understand an all-of-government, an all-of-society approach is needed.”
More than 83,800 cases have been confirmed and nearly 2,900 deaths recorded around the world since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, central China, in December.
While most cases have been in China, hotspots for the virus also now include Italy, Iran and South Korea.