March 2 (UPI) -- The European Union's disease prevention agency raised its risk assessment of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak from moderate to high on Monday as more countries confirm first cases and worries over the virus' spread ballooned along with the growing clusters in South Korea, Italy and Iran.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the decision of the European Center for Disease Control to raise its risk level while launching a coronavirus response team to bring together the various factions working throughout Europe.
"The virus continues to spread," she said, adding the situation before them is complex and requires swift action and strong coordination at all levels.
Leyen said the three pillars of the response team are medical, covering prevention and procurement; mobility, which covers transportation and travel advice; and the economy.
Janez Lenarcic, the European commissioner for crisis management, welcomed reporters during the briefing to their emergency response center and said what has been learned from the ongoing crisis is that all countries need to be ready for COVID-19's arrival.
"While we should not give in to panic, the situation is likely to still get worse, so we need to be prepared and time is of the essence here," he said, adding that all EU member states need to work together to establish a "coherent EU-wide response."
Many of the roughly 70 affected nations and territories recorded their first cases in the past few weeks, with five nations announcing their first infections over the weekend, according to the World Health Organization. On Sunday, Scotland, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, and Iceland added their names to the growing list of countries with new cases.
And on Monday, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Jordan confirmed its first COVID-19 patients.
As new cases pop up in new parts of the world, the WHO on Monday declined to call the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, given that more than 80 percent of the cases of the disease outside China are located in only four countries: Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said South Korea has more than half of all cases outside China, and that most have come from "known clusters," not community spread -- which suggests that disease surveillance and actions taking so far are working.
"If this was influenza, we'd have expected widespread community spread," he said. "Containment is possible in all countries that are affected."
In Iran, meanwhile, a WHO expert team arrived this morning, bringing testing kits capable of evaluating more than 100,000 samples and personal protective equipment -- respirators and face masks -- for more than 15,000 healthcare workers. Iran now has 978 confirmed cases, among them a WHO staffer, who was diagnosed yesterday and has "mild disease."
"The health system in Iran needs to be supported," said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies program. Although the country has a strong health infrastructure, he added, "clearly all health systems come under pressure with this disease."
Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters a 64-year-old woman and her 31-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19 after having come into contact with a Japanese citizen who tested positive for the virus late last month in neighboring Malaysia.
"When we received information [concerning the Japanese citizen], a team in Indonesia immediately traced who the Japanese citizen met with," Widodo told reporters Monday at the State Palace. "We checked, and this morning I received a report from the health minister that they tested positive for the coronavirus."
In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Health confirmed its first infection in a citizen who had returned from Iran via Bahrain, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.
The patient failed to disclose his trip to the coronavirus-riddled Iran at the Saudi port, the ministry said, adding the person is isolated at the hospital.
"The people in contact with the infected person were counted and samples were taken from them for examination," the ministry said.
And Senegal said Monday it diagnosed its first case in a French national who had recently returned from a ski resort in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region from Feb. 13 to Tuesday. He returned to Senegal where he is married with two kids on Wednesday.
"To date, the patient's condition does not raise any major concerns," the ministry said in a statement.
Senegal is the second sub-Sharan African after Nigeria confirmed its first infection last week.
And Jordan confirmed its first patient was a citizen who had recently returned two weeks ago from Italy.
On Monday, South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 476 new cases since 4 p.m. the day prior and four additional deaths, increasing its death toll to 22. South Korea's 4,212 cases are the most outside of China where the virus emerged in December.
Nearly 60 percent of its cases are connected to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus and center around the southeastern city of Daegu where the sect maintains a strong presence, the CDC said.
On Sunday evening, Italy announced its number of cases had increased by some 50 percent to 1,694, most of which were located in the nation's northern region, and 34 deaths. And Iran said it had 978 confirmed infections and 54 deaths, 11 more than the day prior.
The rapid increases prompted Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, to declare they can no longer ensure those infected with COVID-19 will not enter the country.
The island nation prohibited non-citizens who had visited China within 14 days from attempting to enter Australia and applied the same rule to those coming from Iran on Monday. Also from Sunday, any national returning to Australia for Iran will need to self-isolate themselves for the virus' two-week incubation period.
Murphy said measures are to slow down the virus' spread, but they won't stop new cases from entering its borders.
"It is no longer possible to absolutely prevent new cases coming in, given the increasing changes in epidemiology around the country," he said.
The island nation also increased its travel advisory to Level 2 to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling to Italy with select regions receiving a Level 3, urging travelers to reconsider their plans. Australian health professionals returning from those nations will also be urged to self-isolate for two weeks before going back to work.
On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the outbreak could become a pandemic.
The nation has 29 confirmed cases of the virus and one death, which was confirmed on Sunday.
Chinese health officials on Monday reported 42 deaths from the day prior, increasing the death toll for mainland China from the coronavirus to 2,912.
All of the deaths were reported in Hubei province, whose capital Wuhan is where COVID-19 is believed to have emerged in December before spreading across the globe.
The figures were released early Monday in China's National Health Commission's daily update, reporting 202 new confirmed cases of the virus, all but four reported in Hubei.