Hong Kong (CNN)The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that public health officials are operating in “unchartered territory” as they combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 90,000 people across 73 countries and territories as of Monday evening.
The virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica since it was first identified in December last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Medical workers are now battling deadly outbreak clusters in South Korea, Iran and Italy, while other countries are working furiously to avoid a similar fate by readying public health authorities, alerting their citizens and enacting travel restrictions to affected areas.
To date, there have been 172 deaths reported outside mainland China, raising the global death toll to 3,115.
Several nations that have seen cases are putting in place measures to limit the virus’ spread: closing schools, encouraging remote work and canceling or scaling back public events, just to name a few.
The WHO has so far held off on classifying the incident as a global pandemic, but has warned it is a possibility in the near future.
“We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the global health watchdog.
Investors are also bracing for the possibility that the spread of COVID-19, as the virus is formally known, could throw the global economy into recession. Its spread in China, the world’s second-biggest economy and a major manufacturer, was followed by factory closures that severely impacted global supply chains.
At least 80,151 cases have been identified in mainland China to date, killing 2,943 people.
However, the economic effects of the virus now go beyond China, as the virus is impacting business operations and consumer behavior worldwide. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned Monday that the virus plunged the world economy into its worst downturn since the 2009 global financial crisis and that growth could be cut in half if the outbreak continues unabated.
Cases outside mainland China appear to be spreading faster than inside, as the outbreak shows signs of stabilizing in parts of the country, following weeks of restrictions and emergency measures. The WHO’s Ghebreyesus said on Monday that “in the last 24 hours, there were almost nine times more COVID-19 cases reported outside China than inside.”
According to China’s National Health Commission (NHC) confirmed cases in mainland China increased by 125 Monday. Of those cases, 114 were in Hubei, of which Wuhan is the provincial capital.
South Korea, Iran and Italy are facing the most severe outbreaks excluding mainland China. Authorities in Seoul said Tuesday that more than 4,800 infections had been identified, killing 28 people. Italian officials have reported at least 1,835 infected patients and 52 deaths. And Iran has announced at least 1,500 cases and 66 deaths — including an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Several of Iran’s neighbors have taken steps to avoid the spread, including closing borders with the country.