World Health Organization concerned about COVID-19 cases with no clear epidemiological link

Restaurant workers wear protective clothing as they prepare food to sell on the street outside their restaurant in Beijing

The World Health Organization warned that "the window of opportunity is narrowing" to contain the deadly coronavirus that originated in China as cases in other countries soar.

Iran, which had no reported cases earlier this week, on Saturday announced the detection of 10 new cases of coronavirus and two more deaths, appearing to bring the number of infections to 29 and the number of deaths to six. Two other suspected cases are being monitored, health officials said.

Italy has locked down ten towns and asked over 50,000 people to stay home - a move with echoes of China's lockdown of entire cities in central Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus where millions remain under quarantine.

Meanwhile, mainland China held out hope that it was getting a grip on infections after reporting 397 new confirmed cases on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier.

In China, hundreds of inmates have been infected with the novel coronavirus as the outbreak spreads to prisons across the country.

The spread of new coronavirus has intensified around the world, with South Korean cases more than doubling to reach 433 - the highest number of confirmed cases outside of China.

Nicola Low, an epidemiologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said on Twitter that Iran was "not on anyone's list of expected places for COVID-19", adding that the relative risk of Iran importing a case of the new illness had been very low, according to mathematical models.

But concerns have risen about the reliability of the official data, after Hubei officials changed methods of counting cases and amended their figures.

Urging nations to invest in preparedness, the United Nations agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "If we do well within the narrowing window of opportunity, we can avert any serious crisis".

Outside China 1,152 cases of the virus have been confirmed in 26 countries and there have been eight deaths. "It could even be messy", Tedros said.

"We still believe that we can contain the virus", but the world must prepare for any eventuality, he said.

But new, albeit isolated findings of the coronavirus could complicate efforts to thwart it, including the Hubei government's announcement on Saturday that an elderly man took 27 days to show symptoms after infection, nearly twice the presumed 14-day incubation period.

According to the local government, the man, only identified by his family name, Jiang, drove on January 24 his vehicle back to Shennongjia, in northwestern Hubei, from eastern Ezhou, where he had close contact with his sister, who had been infected, according to the government website of Hubei.

Lebanon has reported its first confirmed case - a 45-year-old woman who was detected as she arrived in Beirut from Qom.

Iran said on February 21 that four people there had died and 18 infections had been reported.

Apart from that, there are 75,567 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China. Korean toll: 346 A second person died in South Korea, authorities reported Saturday, as the number of cases in the country spiked.

"We are following this virus 24/7, around the clock", Tedros said.

In the latest unprecedented measure, state media said Wuhan officials were bringing in seven river cruise ships to house medical workers.

"The Japanese government has ensured that appropriate health services are being provided to affected OFWs aboard the ship", it added.

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