Past the Point of Containment

Kuwaiti women wear protective masks at the Mubarakiya Market in Kuwait City earlier today. Image: Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty
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Kuwaiti women wear protective masks at the Mubarakiya Market in Kuwait City earlier today. Image: Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty

COVID-19 “spot fires” erupted in the Middle East, Italy, and South Korea over the weekend, with tough-to-trace cases that officials say signals a new phase of the outbreak, the AP reports.

Officials straining to trace source cases say we’ve reached the tipping point for a pandemic—dampening hopes that it might still be contained. Although China reports a drop in new cases (to 409 on Monday), the worldwide total is now more than 79,000 cases, according to the AP.)

South Korea declared a red alert, Italy quarantined a dozen towns in the north, and cases have emerged in Kuwait, Bahrain and Afghanistan after Iran announced the Middle East’s first cases last week.

“What we see is a very different phase of this outbreak depending where you look,” said WHO’s Dr. Sylvie Briand. “We see different patterns of transmission in different places.”

It’s past time to call this a pandemic, according to risk communicators Jody Lanard and Peter M. Sandman writing in Ian Mackay’s Virology Down Under blog. They urge governments to shift their energy away from "last-ditch containment messaging" and toward preparedness.

"In most countries ... ordinary citizens have not been asked to prepare. Instead, they have been led to expect that their governments will keep the virus from their doors," they write. They offer practical ways governments, health agencies and hospitals, and citizens can prepare.

They emphasize: “Over-alarming risk messages are far more forgivable than over-reassuring ones.”

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