WHO says coronavirus cases stabilising in China, but outbreak could go any way

FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from a time lapse video shows novel coronavirus 2019-nCov growing in Vero E6 cells, in Melbourne, Australia released January 29, 2020. Dr Julian Druce - Vidrl, The Doherty Institute via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - The number of cases of infection with the new coronavirus in China has stabilised, but the apparent slowdown in the epidemic spread should be viewed with “extreme caution”, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a briefing in Geneva.

At the end of a two-day meeting on science and innovation into measures to tackle the new viral outbreak, Tedros welcomed the “positive response of the research community” at short notice “to come up with concrete plans and commitment to work together”.

He added that a WHO-led advance team that travelled to China earlier this week had made “good progress” on the composition and scope of its work.

China reported on Wednesday its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks.

The head of the WHO’s emergency programme, Mike Ryan, also said the stabilisation of new case numbers in China was reassuring, as was the apparently less aggressive and less accelerated behaviour of the virus outside of Hubei province.

“(That) is to a great extent due to a huge public health operation in China,” he told the briefing. “That ... gives us an opportunity for containment.”

Ryan added that it was still too early “to predict the beginning, the middle or end of the epidemic”.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kate Kellandin London, editing by Nick Macfie