Bejing: President Xi Jinping has said that the coronavirus epidemic that has killed over 2,400 people is China's "biggest public health emergency".
"It has the fastest transmission, widest range of infection and has been the most difficult to prevent and control," Xi said at a meeting in Beijing.
Xi acknowledged that the epidemic will "inevitably have a large impact on the economy and society", but he said the effects will be "short-term" and controllable.
The candid admission came even as South Korea went on high alert on Sunday following a sharp jump in coronavirus cases, and Italy and Iran took their own drastic containment steps.
The number of cases in Italy has jumped to over 100, the president of the Lombardy region, as northern towns – near the business hub of Milan -- struggled to contain rising infections.
PM Giuseppe Conte had on Saturday announced that 11 towns in Italy's north would be placed under quarantine, affecting about 50,000 people.
Iran ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 provinces from Sunday following five deaths in the Islamic Republic -- the most outside East Asia and the first in the Middle East.
Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from Iran, and flag carrier Kuwait Airways has suspended flights to the country.
The outbreak in South Korea originated in a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu, whose founder claims the mantle of Jesus Christ and has vowed to take 144,000 people with him to heaven on judgement day.
More than 300 virus cases have been linked to the aforesaid Shincheonji Church and some 9,300 members have either been quarantined or asked to stay at home. More than 1,240 have reported symptoms.
Ninety-seven more people have died in China due to coronavirus, taking the death toll to 2,442, officials said on Sunday, as a team of WHO experts visited the worst-affected Wuhan city in Hubei province.
Tokyo: Four more Indian crew members on board a cruise ship moored off the Japan coast have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Though passengers who are not found to be infected are being asked to disembark and facilitated to travel back home, the crew – mostly Indians – will have to wait. The crew is the last to leave in case of an emergency.