Feb. 21 (UPI) -- World Health Organization officials confirmed Friday that the 12-member team working in China this week -- primarily in Beijing, Guangdong and Sichuan, where there has been an uptick in confirmed cases -- will be moving to Wuhan, ground zero for the COVID-19 outbreak, over the weekend.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the team is "fully empowered" and will be determining "next steps" once they arrive in Wuhan.
As of midnight there were 75,567 confirmed cases in China, including 2,239 deaths. In the past 24 hours, there have been 892 new confirmed cases, with 118 deaths in China alone.
China has resumed counting only lab-confirmed disease in its new case counts, after including "clinically confirmed" cases -- based on CT images of the presence of lower-respiratory infection -- for the past week or so.
According to Adhanom, Chinese officials had been including clinically confirmed cases in order to initiate treatment of these patients sooner, because labs with testing capability for COVID-19 in the Wuhan area had been overwhelmed. Labs in the region once again have capacity to test samples, he said.
Adhanom said Friday that the "window of opportunity" for containing the COVID-19 outbreak may be "narrowing," although he and his colleagues emphasize they still believe containment is possible.
The outbreak has not yet reached the pandemic stage, he said, despite the emergence of 18 new cases, with four deaths, in Iran, among people with no connections to travel to China. In addition, a new confirmed case in Lebanon appears to be linked to the case cluster in Iran, as does a newly confirmed case in Canada, which involves a dual citizen of Iran and Canada.
WHO officials said that they are currently in talks with the government in the Islamic republic. The WHO has already provided Iran with testing kits for COVID-19 and plans to provide "further supports," Adhanom said.
U.N. sanctions against the country, owing to its alleged development of nuclear weapons, do not apply in "emergency situations," he added. "We hope we will have all the opportunity we will need to support Iran."
Also on Friday, WHO announced that it is has appointed six special envoys to consult with all member countries on outbreak response.
The envoys are Maha El Rabbat, former Minister of Health of Egypt; David Nabarro, former special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change; John Nkengasong, Director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mirta Roses, former Director of the WHO Region of the Americas; Shin Young-soo, former Regional Director of the WHO Region of the Western Pacific; and Samba Sow, Director-General of the Center for Vaccine Development in Mali.
Among other efforts, the envoys will be part of an emergency meeting of African health ministers, called by the WHO in conjunction with the African Union and the African CDC, which will focus of preparing the continent's countries for possible COVID-19 cases and ensuring their health systems are adequately prepared.
"The WHO plays a key role in coordinating global response to epidemics, and this is anther step we're taking to take advantage of the window of opportunity we have to contain this outbreak," Adhanom said.