Italy measures against coronavirus strong, mission to Iran stalled - WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - Italy has taken appropriate measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the focus on halting further person-to-person transmission, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

Italy has seen the biggest outbreak of the disease in Europe, with more than 260 cases and seven deaths reported, most in the prosperous north of the country.

A WHO team held talks with Italian officials in Rome on Tuesday about the response, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

“WHO experts are providing support in the areas of clinical management, infection prevention and control, surveillance and risk communication. At this stage the focus is on limiting further human-to-human transmission,” the WHO said in a statement posted overnight.

Several clusters of infections in different regions had already been detected, it said, while noting that based on current data, in the majority of cases (four out of every five) people experience mild or no symptoms.

“The measures taken by the Italian government or the regional governments have been pretty strong and most likely should help in containing this virus as good as possible,” Lindmeier said. He had no information on the team’s travels within Italy.

A separate WHO mission to Iran, which had been announced for Tuesday, has been delayed, Lindmeier said, adding that he had no date for its departure. The WHO’s country office was in contact with authorities.

He urged countries to boost their readiness, saying the virus is “knocking at their door”.

National authorities can implement national “pandemic plans” according to their own risk assessment of the situation at home, Lindmeier said.

The WHO itself, which triggered its highest alarm by declaring an international emergency on Jan. 30 after the outbreak began spreading from China, has no category for declaring a pandemic.

Lindmeier, noting remarks by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday, added: “A pandemic would require multiple community spread and nearly uncontrollable community spread in multiple countries outside of the origin.”

China has reported 77,262 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,595 deaths, while 29 other countries have reported 2,069 confirmed cases including 23 deaths.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams