The World Health Organization has said the world should do more to prepare for a possible coronavirus pandemic.
The WHO said it was too early to call the outbreak a pandemic but countries should be “in a phase of preparedness”.
A pandemic is when an infectious disease spreads easily from person to person in many parts of the world.
More cases of the virus, which causes respiratory disease Covid-19, continue to emerge, with outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran causing concern.
However, most infections are in China, the original source of the virus, where 77,000 people have the disease and nearly 2,600 have died. The number of new cases there is now falling.
More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in about 30 other countries and there have been more than 20 deaths. Italy reported three more deaths on Monday, raising the total there to six.
Worldwide stock markets saw sharp falls because of concerns about the economic impact of the virus.
China said it would postpone the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress next month, to “continue the efforts” against the coronavirus.
The body, which approves decisions made by the Communist Party, has met every year since 1978.
The proportion of infected people who die from Covid-19 appears to be between 1% and 2%, although the WHO cautions that the mortality rate is not known yet.
On Monday Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain reported their first cases, all involving people who had come from Iran. Officials in Bahrain said the patient infected there was a school bus driver, and several schools had been closed as a result.
What does the WHO say?
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference on Monday that the number of new cases in recent days in Iran, Italy and South Korea was “deeply concerning” but not yet a pandemic.
“For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large scale severe disease or deaths,” he said.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”
What are the symptoms?
The main signs of infection are fever (high temperature) and a cough as well as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
What should I do?
Frequent handwashing with soap or gel, avoiding close contact with people who are ill and not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands can help cut the risk of infection.
Catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, binning it and washing your hands can minimize the risk of spreading disease.