A World Health Organization (WHO) official on Tuesday expressed support and praise for China's strict measures to control the novel coronavirus in recent days, which have been criticized by some as harsh and chaotic.
"You can argue whether those measures are excessive or whether they're restrictive on people, but there's a lot at stake here, an awful lot at stake, in terms of public health and in term of not just the public health of China but people all over the world," said Michael Ryan, a WHO leader on health emergencies.
Finding the balance between civil liberties or human rights and necessary restrictions is sometimes difficult, Ryan said. "Right now, the strategic and tactical approach in China is the right one," he said.
Lawrence Gostin, an expert in public health law and professor at Georgetown University in Washington, told time.com recently that quarantines are beneficial: "While expensive, it's more than worth it. It prevents spread of disease and serious illnesses. And it's far less costly than having to hospitalize many patients who could contract the coronavirus infection."
Ryan also backed Japan placing quarantine on the cruise liner Diamond Princess, which has been moored off Yokohama since Feb 4.
"It's very easy in retrospect to make judgments on public health decisions made at a certain point," said Ryan.
Japan's decision to quarantine "was much more preferable at the time than having people dispersed around the world, but obviously the situation on the ground changed, and clearly there's been more transmission than expected on the ship''.
Ryan said the WHO is eager to study the cruise-ship transmission to understand what went wrong, so those lessons can be applied to similar efforts in coming days.
About 500 people will be released on Wednesday from the cruise ship, Japan's Health Ministry said Tuesday.
The ministry said 2,404 people on the ship had tested negative for the virus, but it didn't say how it had decided who would be allowed to leave or when others might be released.
Earlier in the day, the ministry announced that 88 additional cases of coronavirus were confirmed on the ship, bringing the total to 542.
China announced on Wednesday morning the number of cases was at 74,280 — up 1,752 from the day before — and the death toll now stands at 2,006, an increase of 136, the authorities said.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that the agency's experts are still struggling to understand how fatal and contagious the disease is outside China due to a lack of data.
"We don't have enough data on cases outside China to make meaningful conclusions," he said at a news briefing in Geneva, noting that there haven't been sustained human-to-human transmissions outside China except for on the Diamond Princess.
"We still have a chance of preventing a broader global crisis," said Tedros. "WHO will continue working night and day with all countries to prepare them."
UN Secretary António Guterres said Tuesday that one of his biggest concerns is the possible spread of the coronavirus to countries with "less capacity in their health service''.
Guterres told The Associated Press in Pakistan if that were to happen, those countries would require much international help and solidarity.
Egypt has reported its first case of the virus, sparking fears that it could spread across Africa, which is particularly ill-equipped to handle such epidemics.