The COVID-19 coronavirus spread to a new continent on Friday with health officials in Egypt confirming the first recorded case in Africa.
Egypt’s Ministry of Health said the patient was a foreign national who had not showed any symptoms but had been identified based on travel patterns.
Khaled Megahed, a spokesman for the ministry, said laboratory tests had been conducted, the patient was quarantined in hospital and the World Health Organization (WHO) had been informed.
It came as the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide rose to 64,544, including 44 in Europe.
Earlier, the WHO said governments and pharmaceutical giants must urgently begin expensive and risky work developing vaccines against COVID-19.
“Big decisions” need to be taken as vaccines will require “huge investment” and the state sector “will have to take some of the risk with the private sector,” Michael Ryan, emergencies director of the WHO said at a daily coronavirus outbreak briefing in Geneva on Thursday.
“It requires hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, and it may be necessary to develop several potential vaccines “without any certainty that one of them will work.”
It came as more than 13,000 extra cases were retrospectively confirmed following a change in the way the disease is diagnosed, bringing the official total of people infected worldwide to 63,851, of which 1,380 have died in China.
On Friday, Japan also confirmed another case, a Japanese man in his 70s, a day ater it reported its first death from the virus — an elderly Japanese woman.
Japan now has 252 confirmed cases, including 218 from a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Yokohama.
However, the large surge “does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak,” Ryan said.
The acceleration in the number of cases does not necessarily represent a sudden surge in new infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 as much as a revised methodology.
China’s Health Commission has said that the change was aimed at identifying suspected cases in which the patient has pneumonia so they can be treated more quickly and reduce the likelihood of more serious illness or death.
In China’s Hubei province, which includes the outbreak epicentre of Wuhan, a chest x-ray is now sufficient to diagnose the virus instead of a nucleic acid laboratory test. The newly-confirmed cases date as far back as the start of the outbreak in late December.
The infection has not been reported in any new countries since February 4.
Ryan also said it had “become very important” to conclusively identify the source of the outbreak in order to prevent another. A single transmission chain has been identified but there could be others.
Amid ongoing worldwide concern at the infection, organisers announced the cancellation of the 2020 Mobile World Congress, due to be held in Barcelona this month. The GSMA said the announcement was made “with due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country” and that the city “respects and understands this decision.”