Beijing (AFP)

The toll of the epidemic of the new coronavirus crossed the mark of 1,000 deaths on Tuesday, and for the WHO, which dispatched an expert mission to China, the growing number of cases of transmission outside this country could augur for greater spread of the epidemic around the world.

The first death attributed to the 2019-nCoV virus, which appeared in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan (center), was announced on January 11. A month later, the epidemic has now claimed 1,016 lives in mainland China (excluding Hong Kong and Macao), according to an official report published on Tuesday.

Chinese health officials have reported 108 new deaths in twenty-four hours, the heaviest daily toll recorded to date, while confirmed cases of infection amounted to more than 42,000.

On the other hand, as on several occasions since last week, the number of new daily cases (2,478) decreased compared to the previous day.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday called for "stronger and decisive action to stop the spread of contagion" after visiting a Beijing residential area to visit a hospital, appearing for the first time a mask.

Even as most airlines have stopped flights to mainland China and several countries have closed to incoming travelers, the epidemic may now accelerate across the globe, the World Health Organization fears. (WHO).

Outside mainland China, the virus killed two people, one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong, and more than 400 cases of contamination have been confirmed in more than 30 countries and territories.

But a dreaded scenario materialized: without ever having set foot in China, a Briton contaminated by the coronavirus in Singapore then transmitted it to several compatriots during a stay in the Alps in France, before being diagnosed in Great Britain.

He is said to have accidentally contaminated at least 11 people, five of whom are hospitalized in France, five others in Great Britain and a 46-year-old man on the Spanish island of Majorca, according to the information available.

- "Serious and imminent" -

"The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that will end in a bigger fire" epidemic, was alarmed Monday the director general of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"For now, it is only a spark. Our main objective remains containment (of sources of contamination). We call on all countries to use the current firing window to prevent this larger fire," he said. He insists.

Until then, the majority of contamination identified abroad involved people returning from Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic. "We may only see the tip of the iceberg," warned Dr. Tedros on Sunday.

"It is always worrying that people come together (as at a conference in Singapore where the Briton went, note) and then disperse, we must have risk management accordingly. But difficult to put the world Whole shutdown, "said Michael Ryan, WHO emergency health program manager.

London on Monday classified the new coronavirus as "a serious and imminent threat to public health", notably authorizing it to put the contaminated people in force quarantine.

European health ministers will meet urgently in Brussels on Thursday to discuss coordinated measures against the epidemic.

In Asia, thousands of travelers and crew remain on board two cruise ships. At least 135 cases of contamination have been confirmed on the liner Diamond Princess in quarantine off Japan.

An international mission of WHO experts arrived in China, led by Bruce Aylward - veteran of the fight against the Ebola epidemic -, to study the origin of the new coronavirus and its effects.

WHO has also announced that it will convene an expert meeting Tuesday and Wednesday at its headquarters in Geneva to take stock of research and development of vaccines and treatments against the coronavirus.

- Discharged officials -

Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei, where the epidemic spread, remain cut off from the world by a sanitary cordon. Elsewhere, tens of millions of Chinese are subject to confinement rules in several metropolitan areas.

Outside of these regions, China remains largely paralyzed, despite a timid resumption of work on Monday. Students stay on vacation and companies are encouraged to let their employees work from home.

Monday on television, President Xi Jinping wanted to be reassuring, saying that the impact of the virus would be "short-lived" and called for "paying close attention to the issue of unemployment".

The two main officials responsible for health issues in Hubei have also been sacked, state television said on Tuesday.

Local authorities have been criticized for delaying response to the epidemic and even berating whistleblowers for "spreading rumors". The death of one of them, 34-year-old doctor Li Wenliang, on Friday had sparked unusual calls for freedom of expression.

© 2020 AFP