World Health Organization has warned that the emergence of a new coronavirus represents a “major challenge” for the world as well as the countries currently affected.
Cases of the coronavirus, which is from the same family as the SARs virus and the common cold, have been seen in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region since 2012.
In a statement the WHO said: “This is a new infection and there are also many gaps in our knowledge that will inevitably take time to fill in. We know that when people get infected, many of them develop severe pneumonia. What we don’t know is how often people might develop mild disease.
“There are many other things that we don’t understand. For example, how are people getting infected? Is it from animals? Is it from contaminated surfaces? Is it from other people? Finally, we don’t know how widespread is this virus, both in this region and in other countries,” the statement added.
But the WHO said the “greatest global concern” was the potential for the new virus to spread, especially as evidence increasingly supported the hypothesis that it could spread from person-to-person, as opposed to contact with animals.
The virus has already caused severe disease in multiple countries, although in small numbers, and has persisted in the Middle East region since 2012.
“Several urgent actions are needed,” the WHO statement said. “The most important ones are the need for countries, both inside and outside of the region, to increase their levels of awareness among all people but especially among staff working in their health systems and to increase their levels of surveillance about this new infection.”