For the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there are now more reported cases outside of mainland China than inside, it has emerged.
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 US has now reported more than 3,400 cases.
On Friday, the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Europe had become the new epicentre of the pandemic.
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“More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic,” he said.
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 social measures and tough restrictions.
Hundreds 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.
Now there is a fear amongst Asian societies that all of their hard work and sacrifices over the last few months could be wasted if visitors from foreign countries are allowed to fly there.
According to Chinese media, 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.
Authorities had previously asked all passengers arriving in the capital from overseas to self-quarantine, either at home or in a designated facility, for two complete weeks.
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.