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WHO: Time Is Running Out to Stop Spread of Coronavirus

A resident collects vegetables purchased through group orders at the entrance of a residential compound in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT.

The World Health Organization said Friday that time was running out to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak as the number of cases outside China grew.

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "We are still in a phase where containment is possible,” but he warned “our window of opportunity is narrowing."

He said that while the number of cases outside China remained "relatively small," he expressed concern about the rise in cases around the world with no clear link to China.

Tedros cited new cases of the virus in Iran, as well as in an Iranian traveler who carried the virus to Lebanon, and another traveler who spread the virus from Iran to Canada.

Lebanon confirmed its first coronavirus case Friday, a 45-year-old woman who had arrived from Iran and was being quarantined in a hospital.

"We confirmed the first case today," Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan told a news conference, adding that two other suspected cases were being investigated. The woman arrived Thursday on a flight from Qom, Iran.

Meanwhile, Iranian health authorities Friday reported two more deaths from the new coronavirus.

The spokesman for Iran's Health Ministry, Kianoush Jahanpour, said the newly detected cases were all linked with Qom, where the first two elderly patients died Wednesday. So far, 18 cases have been confirmed in Iran, including the four who died.

Another official with Iran's Health Ministry, Minoo Mohraz, said the virus "possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and traveled to China." A Chinese company has been building a solar power plant in Qom.

Qom is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shiite Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.

In neighboring Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said officials had started to screen travelers arriving from Iran at border gates and were refusing entry to anyone who had traveled to Qom in the past 14 days or who had signs of illness.

There have been few virus cases in the Middle East. Nine cases have been confirmed in the United Arab Emirates and one case in Egypt.

The virus also spread further Friday in South Korea and Italy.

Infections nearly doubled in South Korea, rising to 204, making the country the hardest-hit outside China.

Tedros said Friday, “I hope South Korea will do everything to contain this outbreak at this early stage.”

South Korea Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun told a government meeting about the virus, “We have entered an emergency phase.”

In Italy, authorities said 14 people had tested positive for the virus in the northern region of Lombardy, bringing the number of cases in the country to 17. Officials have ordered the closure of schools, restaurants and businesses in the region.

Also Friday, two Australians and an Israeli evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan tested positive for the virus after returning to their home countries. Israel's Health Ministry said this was the first case to be reported inside Israel.