For the first time since the novel coronavirus was first identified last year, there are now more reported cases outside of mainland China than inside, marking a new milestone in the evolution of the global pandemic.
On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported 16 new confirmed cases and 14 deaths, as of end of Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 80,860, of which more than 67,000 patients have recovered.
While China, the early epicenter of the outbreak, has still had more total confirmed cases than any other nation, infection rates in several other countries have surged in recent days. Italy, Europe’s hardest hit country, now has more than 24,000 cases, Iran has almost 14,000, Spain has at least 7,000 and the United States has now reported more than 3,400 cases.
The combined global caseload stands at 169,446 as of Monday morning, with the death toll passing 6,500, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and additional sources.
The continued acceleration of cases comes as countries around the world rush to implement emergency measures in an effort to contain the virus and enforce social distancing, including nationwide lockdowns, imposing border and travel restrictions, school closures and ordering restaurants, cafes and bars to close or reduce services.
On Friday, the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Europe had become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. “More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic,” he said.
Italy on Sunday announced 368 new fatalities in just 24 hours, bringing the total death toll in the country to 1,809, according to the country’s Civil Protection Department.
Fears of a second wave
As cases blow up in Europe and North America, fear is growing in Asia of the possibility of a second wave of infections from imported cases.
Countries such as China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore have seen caseloads stabilize in recent weeks, thanks largely to a combination of aggressive containment and social distancing measures.
Tens of millions of people in mainland China and elsewhere in Asia were subjected to varying restrictions, with people unable to leave their homes or housing compounds, or go to work or school.
But a rise in infections linked to overseas travel has led to concerns that those sacrifices could be undone.
Governments across the region are now stepping up quarantine and travel restrictions. From Monday, all overseas travelers arriving in the Chinese capital Beijing will be sent to quarantine facilities for 14 days at their own cost, according to state media. Authorities in Beijing had previously required all passengers arriving in the capital from overseas to self-quarantine, either at home or in a designated facility, for two complete weeks.
Health officials in Wuhan – ground zero for the outbreak – told citizens to avoid going out as much as possible as the city is still facing a “severe” epidemic, amid a continuation of locally transmitted cases.
In Singapore, authorities have announced the introduction of a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for new visitors traveling from several East Asian countries, Switzerland and the UK. And Hong Kong has urged its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Ireland, the UK and US.