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Coronavirus spreads outside China, fueling health expert fears of global pandemic: 'It's already out'

About 2,200 cases reported outside China, and Italy, South Korea, and Iran have been hit the hardest.

An Italian Guardia di Finanza (Custom Police) officer, wearing a respiratory mask, talks to a young man at a road block on Febb. 24 in Casalpusterlengo, south-west Milan, Italy. (Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Health experts increasingly fear coronavirus will inevitably become a global pandemic, as more cases of the virus show up worldwide in patients who never traveled to China, according to Vox.

Worldwide cases of coronavirus, which has come to be more precisely known as Covid-19, are approaching 80,000. While an overwhelming majority of the cases are still in China, several other nations have started feeling its disruptive impact and been forced to take extreme measures in an attempt to control the spread.

"I don't think the answer is shutting down the world to stop this virus. It's already out," Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told Vox.

There are now about 2,200 coronavirus cases outside China, up from only 500 a week before. In particular, Italy, South Korea, and Iran have been hit the hardest.

Italy, home to the largest outbreak outside Asia, has 215 cases and four deaths so far, leading to "draconian" measures to stop the spread in the northern part of the country. From The Guardian:

Italian authorities have implemented draconian measures to try to halt the coronavirus outbreak in the north of the country, including imposing fines on anyone caught entering or leaving outbreak areas, as a third person was confirmed to have died on Sunday.

The number of cases of the virus in the country has risen to 152 (as of Sunday afternoon).

Police are patrolling 11 towns – mostly in the Lombardy region, where the first locally transmitted case emerged – that have been in lockdown since Friday night. The latest victim died in the Lombardy city of Crema.

Events in Italy are also being cancelled due to coronavirus concerns.

About 50,000 residents in the towns under lockdown have been told to stay home and avoid social contact, while schools, shops and businesses – apart from chemists – have been closed and festivities and sporting events including Serie A football matches and the final two days of the Venice carnival have been cancelled.

The impact of coronavirus on Iran is somewhat unclear. An Iranian lawmaker was quoted Monday as saying 50 people had died from the virus, but the foreign ministry denies that claim and says only 12 people have died out of 61 total infections.

South Korea has 600 confirmed coronavirus cases and 6 deaths so far, and has raised its alert to the highest level as South Korean President Moon Jae-in says the country faces a "grave turning point" in the situation.

Public health experts told Vox that pandemic seems increasingly likely because the fact that it can be transmitted by people with no symptoms, many cases could be getting missed due to a focus on people who traveled from China, testing capacity is not up to speed, and China could soon relax travel restrictions.

"When several countries have widespread transmission, then spillover to other countries is inevitable," said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, according to Vox. "One cannot shut out the rest of the world."

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