US Health Official: Coronavirus on Verge of Becoming ‘Global Pandemic’

February 16, 2020 Updated: February 17, 2020
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A top official at the U.S. National Institutes of Health said the outbreak of the new coronavirus, called COVID-19, is on the verge of turning into a global pandemic unless efforts to curb its spread become more fruitful.

“Technically speaking, the [World Health Organization] wouldn’t be calling this a global pandemic. But it certainly is on the verge of that happening reasonably soon unless containment is more successful than it is right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News on Sunday.

As of Sunday, about two-dozen countries have more than 500 cases, he said. “Several of them, are starting to get to the second and third transmission,” Fauci said, adding that a pandemic means that there are several countries with sustained transmission from “person to person to person.”

The World Health Organization has already declared the virus a health emergency of international concern.

Over the weekend, health officials in France and Taiwan confirmed two deaths in their respective countries.

The United States has confirmed a total of 15 cases of the virus from California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, and Washington State. The latest patient was confirmed to have the virus at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland near San Antonio, Texas. The person was among a group of Americans who were flown out of virus epicenter Wuhan, China, late last month.

japan cruise ship diamond princess
The Diamond Princess cruise ship is anchored at the Daikaku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on Feb. 12, 2020. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, more than 350 cases of people infected with the COVID-19 virus were confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship located off the coast of Yokohama, Japan. U.S. officials announced that they were evacuating hundreds of Americans who were being held on the ship on Sunday evening.

“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” Fauci told CBS News of those passengers. “People who have symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane. Others are going to be evacuated starting imminently to air force bases in the United States.”

The U.S. Department of Defense has said it is preparing to receive two flights with passengers, and one will land at Travis Air Force Base, California and the other at Kelly Field-Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The evacuees would be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Another cruise ship, Holland America’s MS Westerdam, docked in Cambodia on Thursday after being rejected by ports elsewhere. An 83-year-old American passenger tested positive for the COVID-19 virus upon arriving in Malaysia, authorities there said. A second test requested by the cruise operator confirmed the finding.

Reuters contributed to this report.