Scientists testing coronavirus treatments, trial results expected in 3 weeks, WHO says

'We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,' WHO's director general said of decrease in coronavirus cases

GENEVA/LONDON -- A continued decline in the number of new cases of coronavirus infections in China is encouraging, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, while warning that infections outside the country could still spread.

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“We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,” the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a briefing in Geneva.

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To date, 25 other countries have reported 1,076 cases to WHO, including five in the latest affected, Iran, he said.

Tedros noted that the total was very low compared to nearly 75,000 inside China, but added: “That may not stay the same for long.”

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The mayor of Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, urged residents to stay indoors after a spike in infections linked to a church congregation.

The latest cases reported by South Korea are from “several distinct clusters," Oliver Morgan, the WHO’s director of health emergency information and risk assessment, told the briefing.

“So although the number seems quite high, they are mostly linked to known existing outbreaks,” Morgan said.

A staff member works at the workshop of Fusen Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. in Nanyang in central China's Henan Province. (Feng Dapeng/Xinhua via AP)

“That doesn’t signal a particular change in global epidemiology but it does signal that the Korean authorities are following up very closely, very vigorously, on all the new cases and those outbreaks that they have identified.”

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Tedros, noting that South Korean authorities have reported a total of 104 confirmed cases, including 22 on Thursday, said: “With measures they can take, which is proportionate to the public health risk they have, I think the number of cases are really manageable.”

He also said that he had contacted 12 leading manufacturers of protective equipment - such as masks, goggles and gowns - to ensure that health workers received supplies first.

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“There is a good signal, a positive signal from the manufacturers,” Tedros said, without giving details.

Chinese scientists are testing two antiviral drugs against the new coronavirus and preliminary clinical trial results are expected in three weeks, he said.

He referred to trials of a combination of antiviral drugs ritonavir and lopinavir, sold under the brand name Kaletra by AbbVie Inc and to an experimental antiviral drug remdesivir from U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc.