Authorities in Algeria have reported its first case of the virus after an unnamed traveller arrived from Italy, one of the affected countries on February 17, 2020.
According to the North African country's Health Minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid, the infected patient is an Italian national who came in with another person.
Both travellers were sent to the Pasteur Hospital in Algiers where one of them was later tested positive for the virus, officially known as COVID-19.
The health minister stated that the infected patient has been quarantined and is receiving special medical treatment.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed Algeria's report. “This is the first case in the WHO African region," Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said.
Following this diagnosis, she also urged all countries in the region to prepare for the virus.
In her words, "The window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for Coronavirus is closing. All countries must ramp up their preparedness activities."
Reportedly, WHO will be sending a team of experts to Algeria to help support the country's health authorities.
Since the virus broke out in Wuhan, China, it has continued to spread to many countries and infected over 80,000 globally, killing at least 2,700.
With this continuous spread, health experts are considering redefining the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. However, WHO says the outbreak has 'pandemic potential' but is not there yet.
During a press briefing with reporters on Monday, February 24, 2020, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "Our decision about whether to use the word 'pandemic' to describe an epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of disease it causes and the impact it has on the whole society.
"For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths. Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet from our assessment? Not yet."
Dr Mike Ryan, WHO executive director of the agency's Health Emergencies Programme, has offered more information on the decision to define or not define a situation as a pandemic.
"So 'pandemos' is a concept where there's a belief that the whole world's population will likely be exposed to this infection and potentially a proportion of them fall sick. What we don't understand yet in Covid-19 are the absolute transmission dynamics. We're in a phase of preparedness for a potential pandemic," he said.
For now, he recommends focusing "on what we can do and what we need to do, which is prepare. When we mean prepare, we mean prepare to detect cases, prepare to treat cases, prepare to follow contacts, prepare to put in place adequate containment measures."