The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that the world is at a "decisive point" to tackle the coronavirus outbreak as new cases outside China has outnumbered that inside the country.
"We are at a decisive point," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a daily briefing. "For the past two days, the number of new cases reported in the rest of the world has exceeded the number of new cases in China."
"And in the past 24 hours, seven countries have reported cases for the first time: Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania," he added.
The WHO chief explained that by referring it as a "decisive point," he was underlining both sides of a coin.
On the positive side, he said, there's the signal that "when you do containment measure like China is doing, you can actually see a decline in the cases and ultimately it can be contained."
On the other side, the increase of cases in the rest of the world, especially in Iran, Italy and South Korea, is bad news, he said.
"Then the two (sides) combined, it shows that we are actually in a very delicate situation where the outbreak can go in any direction, based on how we handle it," he warned.
The WHO chief reiterated his call for all countries to act aggressively and swiftly. "Aggressive, early measures can prevent transmission before the virus gets a foothold." he said.
The Japanese island of Hokkaido is declaring a state of emergency over the rapid spread of the new virus there.
The governor says the emergency will continue until mid-March.
He is urging all residents to stay home this weekend, which he says is a critical time to keep the situation from worsening.
The number of cases in Hokkaido has risen rapidly in recent days to 63.
Schools throughout Japan are closing until the end of March.
Residents of a Northern California community are at the epicenter of what officials are calling a turning point in the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, as investigators try to retrace the steps of a hospitalized patient they believe to be the first in the U.S. to be infected without traveling internationally or being in close contact with anyone who had it.
Some took the news in stride even as federal infectious disease experts fanned out across Vacaville with teams of state and local health officials. Others stockpiled supplies for fear things could get worse despite official reassurances.
The community of about 100,000 is between San Francisco and Sacramento in Solano County, in the agricultural Central Valley near California's famous wine region. It is about 10 miles from Travis Air Force Base. Public health officials said they can find no connection between the infected woman and passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated to the base from where the ship was docked in Japan.
The development marks an escalation of the worldwide outbreak in the U.S. because it means the virus could now spread beyond the reach of preventative measures like quarantines, though state health officials said that had been inevitable and the risk of widespread transmission remained low.
McKinsey Paz, her husband and her boss at a Vacaville private security company weren't taking any chances. They hustled to a warehouse store Thursday for 10 cases of bottled water, canned food, staples like rice and beans, and cases of toilet paper and paper towels.
"We're not sure what's going to happen. Panic seems to do that to you," she said. "In case things get a little crazy, we didn't want to be the last ones. We're preparing for the worst."
Solano County Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas said public health officials have identified dozens of people — but less than 100 — who had close contact with the woman. Those people are quarantined in their homes. A few have shown symptoms and are in isolation, Matyas said.
Officials are not too worried, for now, about casual contact, because federal officials think the coronavirus is spread only through "close contact, being within six feet of somebody for what they're calling a prolonged period of time," said Dr. James Watt, interim state epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health.
The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.
Several Vacaville residents said they will try to avoid crowded places for now, while taking other routine and recommended precautions like frequent and thorough hand-washing.
Others plan to do more.
"I'm definitely going to wear my mask and gloves at work, because I'm a server," said Denise Arriaga, who works at a popular bowling alley. She has seen more patrons there wearing masks recently and said she doesn't care if she's criticized for the extra precautions.
"At the end of the day, it's my life," she said.
The case raised questions about how quickly public health officials are moving to diagnose and treat new cases. State and federal health officials disagreed about when doctors first requested the woman be tested.
Doctors at the UC Davis Medical Center said they asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test the woman for the virus on Feb. 19. But they said the CDC did not approve the testing until Sunday "since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria" for the virus, according to a memo posted to the hospital's website.
The woman first sought treatment at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville, before her condition worsened and she was transferred to the medical center.
CDC spokesman Richard Quartarone said a preliminary review of agency records indicates the agency did not know about the woman until Sunday, the same day the woman was first tested.
That's the kind of confusion that concerns Paz, whose security company has already stockpiled 450 face masks and is scrambling for more "since they're hard to come by." The owner also bought enough cleaning and disinfectant supplies to both scrub down the office and send home with employees.
But they are at the extreme when it comes to such preparations.
Eugenia Kendall was wearing a face mask, but in fear of anything including the common cold. Her immune system is impaired because she is undergoing chemotherapy, and she has long been taking such precautions.
"We're not paranoid. We're just trying to be practical," said her husband of 31 years, Ivan Kendall. "We wipe the shopping carts if they have them, and when I get back in the car I wipe my hands — and just hope for the best."
Investigators were focused on tracing the woman's movements to figure out how she got the virus and who else she may have unwittingly infected.
With the patient as ground zero, they are interviewing immediate family members. Then, as with any similar case, they are expanding the net to include more distant family members who may have been in contact, social gatherings like church that the patient may have attended, and any possible time spent at work or events like a concert.
All of the 59 other cases in the U.S. have been for people who had traveled abroad or had close contact with others who traveled.
Earlier U.S. cases included 14 in people who returned from outbreak areas in China, or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
The global count of those sickened by the virus hovered Thursday around 82,000, with 433 new cases reported in China and another 505 in South Korea.
Some guests have started to leave a locked-down hotel in Spain's Tenerife island after undergoing screening for a new virus that is infecting hundreds worldwide.
Reporters at the scene saw several families and couples being screened for their temperatures on Thursday morning by what appeared to be medical personnel wearing protective outfits.
The holidaymakers wore face masks and appeared to sign documents before boarding a passengers' van loaded with suitcases.
Health officials in Spain's Canary Islands said that 130 of the hundreds of tourists at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel, many of them foreigners, would be leaving in batches.
The cleared vacationers, from 11 different countries including Spain, had arrived at the hotel on Monday, after four people who tested positive for the COVID-19 disease had already been hospitalized.
Nobody else at the premises, whether guests or hotel employees, has been found infected, authorities said. The remaining 600 holidaymakers at the hotel, from a total of 25 countries, are to stay in quarantine for 14 days.
Spain has experienced a significant uptick in the number of infections this week, from the two initial cases earlier this month who had been already released from hospital to 25 as of Friday morning.
Although most cases have been connected to the new coronavirus cluster in northern Italy, authorities are investigating what was the source of contagion for three of the newest patients, including a 77-year-old in serious condition, who had not traveled abroad.
Muslims in a northeastern neighborhood of India's capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques on Friday, two days after a 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims that left at least 40 dead and hundreds injured.
Five days after they started, authorities have not said what sparked the riots — the worst communal violence in New Delhi in decades — hospitals were still trying to identify all the dead, and the toll continued to rise.
"If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It's our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing our religion," said Mohammad Sulaiman, who was among about 180 men who prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest.
Tensions between Hindu hard-liners and Muslims protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's Hindu-first policies had been building for months when the violence exploded Sunday night, on the eve of U.S. President Donald Trump's first state visit to India.
Kapil Mishra, a local leader of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, demanded at a rally Sunday that police shut down a Muslim-led protest in the city or else he and his followers would do it themselves.
And it appears they did.
Hindus and Muslims attacked each other with guns and swords, metal rods and axes, leaving the streets where the rioting occurred resembling a war zone.
There was a heavy police presence in the neighborhood on Friday. On one riot-torn street, Hindus shouted "Jai Shri Ram," or Long Live Ram, the Hindu god, as Muslims attempted to reach a mosque damaged in the riots.
Several Muslim residents told The Associated Press that most Muslim families had locked up their homes and fled the area.
The passage of a citizenship law in December that fast-tracks naturalization for some religious minorities from neighboring countries but not Muslims earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead.
The protest violence is the latest in a long line of periodic communal clashes that date to the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when the country was split into secular, Hindu-majority India and the Islamic state of Pakistan.
The protection of India's religious, cultural and linguistic diversity is enshrined in its constitution. But communal tensions have occasionally flared into deadly riots, beginning with partition itself, when Hindus living in what is now Pakistan migrated to India, and Muslims in modern India to Pakistan.
Clashes claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and people of other religions.
This week's death toll marked the worst religiously motivated violence in New Delhi since 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the capital and more than 8,000 nationwide.
In 1992, tens of thousands of Hindu extremists razed a 16th-century mosque in northern India, claiming that it stood on Ram's birthplace. Nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country in the riots that followed.
The religious polarization that followed saw Modi's right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party emerge as the single largest party in India's Parliament.
In 2002, the western Indian state of Gujarat erupted in violence when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob. A fire erupted — it remains unclear whether it was arson — and 60 Hindus burned to death. In retaliation, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the state.
Modi was Gujarat's chief minister at the time. He was accused of tacit support for the rampage against Muslims, but a court ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing.
Violent large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims last took place in New Delhi in 2014, months after Modi's party came to power, in a largely poor neighborhood close to where this week's rioting occurred. That violence left three dozen people injured.
Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who wrote a book about Indian riots, said the worst has been averted — at least for now.
"If it had reached the scale of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002, it would have doomed Indian politics for many years to come and brought India closer to the kind of Hindu-Muslim polarization that the current ruling party would ideally want, but is finding it hard to manufacture," Varshney said.
BJP leaders, who have sought to demonize Muslim protesters as a threat to India, may see some gain from the violence, Varshney said.
But it comes at a cost, the international perception that India under Modi has become ungovernable, he said.
Government spokesman Raveesh Kumar denied the Modi government had inflamed religious tensions in India and failed to protect minority Muslims.
"These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicizing the issue," he said. "Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy."
He added that Modi had "publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood."
"We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time," he said.