US public health officials are warning that it is inevitable the COVID-19 coronavirus will become a pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stopped short of using the label – but warned countries to prepare for the possibility it will become one.
It has also expressed concern that countries outside of China are “simply not ready” to respond if it does.
Dr Nancy Messonier from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) for has said it is not a question of if but when.
“It is not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of when it will happen – and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” she said.
“We have been preparing to address this type of threat and limit the impact on our communities.”
She also warned that “disruption to everyday life might be severe” in the US and urged businesses, schools and families to discuss how they will deal with the impact.
Meanwhile, WHO Dr Bruce Aylward, who led an international expert mission to China to study the virus, said other countries were not ready to implement the drastic quarantine and containment taken by Beijing.
More than 77,000 have been infected in China and almost 2,700 have died.
The virus has also now appeared in more than 30 other countries – with Italy Iran and South Korea the worst-affected.
The first case of the coronavirus has been confirmed in South America as the outbreak continues to spread around the world.
Health authorities in Brazil announced on Wednesday that a man had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Sao Paulo, meaning that the deadly infection has now reached every continent besides Antarctica.
The news came as the coronavirus crisis deepened in Europe, with Italy confirming its 12th death since a dramatic surge in the number of diagnoses there began last week.
Greece has also reported its first case and France the first death of one of its own nationals - with a 60-year-old man confirmed to have died in Paris overnight.
See a realtime map of COVID-19 cases here (as reported by Johns Hopkins University in the US)
He was the second coronavirus fatality in the country, after a Chinese national from Hubei province died last month.
South Korea has confirmed 977 cases, with 10 deaths. Officials are investigating a link between a Christian sect and the spike in infections.
In Iran, 95 cases have been confirmed, with 16 deaths.
Iran's deputy health minister and head of the country's anti-coronavirus taskforce, Iraj Harirchi, is among those who have tested positive, after being seen sweating at a news conference on Monday.
The number of confirmed cases in Italy has now risen to 322 with 11 deaths. The majority of the cases are in the north of the country.
Anyone returning to Ireland from the area is advised to self-isolate if displaying any symptoms.
Meanwhile, the Health Minister will meet the IRFU this morning to discuss his call for Ireland’s Six Nations match against Italy to be cancelled.
Simon Harris last night recommended that the match on March 7th be called off due fears over the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Government has been in contact with several Irish people who are staying near a Tenerife hotel that has been placed on lockdown over the coronavirus.
It comes after an Italian doctor, who was visiting Tenerife on holiday, tested positive for COVID-19.
His wife and two others who were travelling with them have now also tested positive.
On Newstalk Breakfast, Tenerife based journalist Cliodna O'Flynn said all four travelled from Italy.
"He had travelled to the island on February 17th," she said.
"Then subsequently his wife tested positive.
"The authorities went in a shut down the hotel and there have been two more positive testings. But they were two people who were in the same group."
Meanwhile, several Irish schools are seeking advice after confirming they had pupils in Italy on ski trips over the mid-term break.
Several schools in the North have sent pupils home as a precaution after they returned from Italy.
The Department of Health has claimed it cannot release details of which schools are affected on GDPR grounds.
The HSE is urging anyone who has been to one of seven coronavirus-affected areas in the past two weeks to contact it on 1850 24 1850.
The areas are:
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
- The Italian provinces of Lombardy, Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia – Romagna
You should also call the number if you have been in contact with anyone who has the virus or have been in a hospital or healthcare centre where people are being treated for it.
If you have been in one of the coronavirus-affected areas and feel unwell you should:
- phone your GP, emergency department (ED) or student healthcare centre immediately
- stay indoors
- avoid contact with other people
The HSE said you should follow this advice even if your symptoms are mild.