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COVID-19 coronavirus spreads to Africa as Egypt confirms first case

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Egypt has been testing arriving travellers for symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus
Egypt has been testing arriving travellers for symptoms of COVID-19 coronavirus   -  
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The COVID-19 coronavirus spread to a new continent on Friday with health officials in Egypt confirming the first recorded case in Africa.

Egypt’s Ministry of Health said the patient was a foreign national who had not showed any symptoms but had been identified based on travel patterns.

Khaled Megahed, a spokesman for the ministry, said laboratory tests had been conducted, the patient was quarantined in hospital and the World Health Organization (WHO) had been informed.

It came as the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide rose to over 67,000 globally, including 44 in Europe.

As of Saturday, the latest figures reported by each government's health authority were 1,523 deaths among 66,492 cases in mainland China, mostly in the central province of Hubei; 56 cases including 1 death in Hong Kong; 10 in Macao; 1 death and 259 cases in Japan, including 218 from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama; 67 in Singapore; 33 in Thailand; 28 in South Korea; 21 in Malaysia; 18 in Taiwan; 16 in Vietnam; 16 in Germany; 15 in the United States while separately, one U.S. citizen has died in China; 14 in Australia; 11 in France; 9 in the United Kingdom; 8 in the United Arab Emirates; 8 in Canada; 3 cases including 1 death in the Philippines; 3 in India; 3 in Italy; 2 in Russia; 2 in Spain; 1 in Belgium; 1 in Nepal; 1 in Sri Lanka; 1 in Sweden; 1 in Cambodia; 1 in Finland and 1 in Egypt.

Meanwhile, China has ordered everyone returning to Beijing to enter quarantine for 14 days or risk punishment, according to state media.

This week's acceleration in cases is not necessarily an indicator of a surge in COVID-19 because the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital of Wuhan changed the way cases are diagnosed and counted.

In Hubei, a chest x-ray is now sufficient to diagnose the virus instead of a nucleic acid laboratory test. The vast numbers of newly-confirmed cases date as far back as the start of the outbreak in late December. However, it is not clear when the sudden jump in numbers, which began on Wednesday, will ease.

“We’re seeking further clarity on how clinical diagnoses are being made to ensure other respiratory illnesses including influenza are not getting mixed into the COVID-19 data,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a daily coronavirus media briefing in Genevea.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics to go ahead

Earlier, the WHO said it had not given advice either way to organizers over this summer’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics, amid concerns that COVID-19 could disrupt the event or prevent some countries from taking part.

“We have not offered advice to the IOC for the Olympics one way or the other, nor would we,” WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan told the briefing.

“It is not the role of the WHO to call off or not call off any event,” he added, saying the organization would instead offer advice and risk reduction measures. “It is the decision of hosting countries and organising agencies.”

Separately, a top International Olympic Committee member made clear Friday that the games would will not be cancelled.

John Coates, the who heads the regular inspection visits to Tokyo, said he received reports on the virus from the Japanese government and he's sure that all the necessary precautions are being taken.

He said that he's confident the games would go forward "in a way that's safe for the athletes and spectators".

Meantime, the vulnerability of health workers responding to the epidemic was crystalized with other data emerging from China. More than 1,700 medical workers in China have contracted COVID-19 and six have died, according to the health commission, which said it was “highly concerned” by the infections.

The costly search for COVID-19 vaccines

The WHO has said governments and pharmaceutical giants must urgently begin expensive and risky work developing vaccines against COVID-19.

"Big decisions" need to be taken as vaccines will require “huge investment” and the state sector "will have to take some of the risk with the private sector," Ryan told reporters on Thursday.

"It requires hundreds of millions of dollars," he said, and it may be necessary to develop several potential vaccines "without any certainty that one of them will work."

Ryan also said it had "become very important" to conclusively identify the source of the outbreak in order to prevent another. A single transmission chain has been identified but there could be others.

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