A World Health Organisation (WHO) chief has warned more countries could “soon be suffering like Iran and Italy” as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
WHO Health Emergencies Programme director Dr Michael Ryan issued the stark warning as the organisation confirmed the health crisis was now a pandemic.
He said: “Iran and Italy are on the frontline now. They’re suffering, but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation very soon.”
Dr Ryan admitted he feared countries may reduce efforts to stop the outbreak after a pandemic was declared.
He added: “For me, I’m not worried about the word. I’m more concerned about that the world’s reaction will be to that word. Will we use it as a call to action? Will we use it to fight? Or will we use it to give up?”
The health chief also said the situation in Iran, where 354 people have died, was “very serious” and the agency would like to see more surveillance and care for the sick.
The outbreak has killed more than 4,000 people across the world, with 120,000 being infected.
In Europe, 715 people have died and more than 18,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus.
Italy is the worst-affected country in the world after China, with some 631 deaths and 10,149 confirmed cases since the contagion came to light in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy on 21 February.
Switzerland, with around 650 cases and three deaths, shares a nearly 750-km (466-mile) border with Italy, stretching from the rugged western Swiss Alps to Austria.
In the UK, where six people have died, the Department of Health said 456 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Wednesday, up from 373 at the same point on Tuesday.
The Spanish health ministry has reported more than 2,000 coronavirus cases in the country, with 49 deaths.
Belgian authorities held a cruise ship with more than 3,000 people on board in the port of Zeebrugge on Wednesday morning over suspected cases of the coronavirus after the country reported its first death from the disease.
Belgium now has 314 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
While in France there are 1,784 cases, with around 33 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.
Read more: Coronavirus: Number of UK cases jumps to 456
Health authorities said hospitals were treating increasing numbers of patients with respiratory infections.
The number of people infected with the coronavirus in the Netherlands increased by a third on Wednesday to 503, Dutch health authorities said. Fatalities rose from four to five.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”