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New coronavirus cases outside China exceeded those in China for the first time, WHO says

Medical staff check incoming passengers coming from Italy to detect any possible symptoms of Covid-19 also known as Coronavirus at Albanias main port city of Durres on February 26, 2020.

Gent Shkullaku | AFP | Getty Images

The number of daily new COVID-19 cases outside China exceeded those inside the country for the first time, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday.

Outside of China, there are now 2,790 cases of the coronavirus across 37 countries, including 44 deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to a transcript of remarks from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

“The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning,” Tedros said. “Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time.”

He didn’t give specific figures for Tuesday’s count of new cases.

Tedros said there are cases linked to Iran in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman. There are also cases linked to Italy in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, he said. Separately, health officials in Brazil confirmed the first case in Latin America and said it was tracking 20 other suspected cases.

The localized outbreaks of the virus in Iran and Italy have been fueling concerns among infectious disease experts and scientists that the virus is spreading too quickly and may be past the point of containment.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus becomes an epidemic outbreak in the U.S.

Tedros said Wednesday that a team of infectious disease experts and scientists will travel to Iran this weekend to provide support there.

He reiterated caution about declaring the flu-like virus a pandemic, saying, “using the word ‘pandemic’ carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems.”

“It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true. We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things,” he added.

There are currently no proven therapies for the virus and a vaccine will take at least a year to develop, health officials say.

Tedros said last week that preliminary results from two clinical trials testing potential treatments for COVID-19 are expected in three weeks.

On Tuesday, U.S. health officials announced that human trials testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus are expected to begin in six weeks.

“We are on time at least and maybe even a little bit better,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters. “Hopefully, no further glitches.”

Read CNBC’s live updates to see the latest news on the COVID-19 outbreak.

Correction: An earlier headline misstated the World Health Organization’s statement about the extent of the coronavirus outside China. It said the number of daily new cases outside that country exceeded those inside for the first time.