Concerns grow over virus spreading as new hot zone identified in South Korea

The number of cases in the country doubled in just one day and the Korean deputy health minister saying it has entered a "serious new phase."
4:00 | 02/22/20

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Transcript for Concerns grow over virus spreading as new hot zone identified in South Korea
Hey, good morning, and we begin with ominous new signs in the coronavirus story. The world health organization now warning that the window to contain the outbreak is quickly closing and that we could soon be looking at a global pandemic. The virus now spreading to new countries in the Middle East and in northern Italy, officials are suspending public gatherings and closing schools after 19 new cases were identified. But the largest cluster of the illness outside of China is in South Korea where officials are reporting an eightfold jump in new cases. In the past three days. Our Dr. Jen Ashton is standing by with analysis but we start with ABC's Ian Pannell who's in Seoul, South Korea. Ian, good morning. Reporter: Good morning, whit. That's right. From a country that's in the grip of a major new outbreak, the Korean health ministry says it's entered a serious new phase and the number of worldwide cases has spiked yet again. This morning, a stark new warning from world health officials over the new coronavirus known as covid-19. Experts now saying though the cases outside China are still few, time to stop it spreading further may be running out. We know of opportunities not owing so we need to act quickly before it closes completely. Reporter: And here in the U.S., the CDC warning Americans that while covid-19 isn't spreading, it may. It's very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen. Reporter: Worldwide, covid-19 infecting more than 77,000 people as it spreads from the epicenter in Wuhan, China. South Korea this morning confirming more than 400 cases. Health authorities saying 80% of them linked to a single hospital and a church. And in northern Italy, the outbreak today spiking to more than 20 cases. Authorities there shutting down public spaces, closing businesses, churches and schools in several towns in an effort to slow the virus' spread. And in Iran, Tehran reporting five people dying from covid-19 and 28 total cases. Now, amid all of the news it is worth reminding people that the race of infection and death in China appears to has slowed again. Although the numbers in Korea are high it's partly because the number of authorities are so good at testing large number of people. Remaining the spread and everywhere you go people are wearing these. All right, Ian Pannell for us there in Seoul. Let's bring in Dr. Jennifer Ashton joining us from Boston this morning. Dr. Ashton, so many questions about those cruise ships, how covid can spread, the decision to bring those passengers back to the U.S. What has to happen to contain this outbreak? Well, Eva, first let's talk about, let's say, the decision to quarantine or place these quarantine restrictions in place. It's risk benefit. It's the risk of doing that or quarantining people or restricting their travel and the risk of not doing that versus what proposed benefit there could be. When you talk about trying to contain an outbreak like this, the steps are identified the pathogen, isolate, diagnose and treat and right now, and from the time that this whole outbreak started just about six weeks ago, each of those four steps has been very challenging and in some cases, frankly problematic. We're hearing these new numbers in other countries. What is your take on that? I really want to caution people. When you hear these number, we have to remember those are confirmed cases, different countries using different diagnostic criteria rather than the confirm case count and death count. I think the real question here is the numbers of how many are being tested, how many are infected. How many are symptomatic and how many are not symptomatic. We can't assess data until we have good data and right now that's been challenging. Dr. Jen Ashton, thank you so much for being with us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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