The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel advisory for South Korea to the highest level, urging Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to the country as cases of the novel coronavirus surge around the globe.
“CDC recommends avoiding nonessential travel to South Korea,” the agency said in its warning on Monday. “If you spent time in South Korea during the past 14 days and feel sick with fever or cough, or have difficulty breathing … seek medical advice.”
South Korean health officials have identified 893 cases of the virus in the country, the highest of any region outside China, where the virus was first seen. Many of those cases are in the city of Daegu and have been linked to a branch of a secretive religious group called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
The country’s president, Moon Jae-in, raised South Korea’s alert to the highest level last weekend as cases spread, allowing the government to lock down cities or restrict the movement of residents.
“We are faced with a watershed moment in the case of the coronavirus,” Moon said, according to The New York Times. “The coming few days will be a critical time for us. This will be a momentous time when the central government, local governments and the whole people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem.”
China is the only other country currently under a Level 3 advisory.
The CDC said Monday that cases within the U.S. had also increased to 53, with 39 of those among passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
The World Health Organization has released increasingly bleak forecasts for the spread of the virus, also known as COVID-19, in recent days. On Monday, the group declined to label it a pandemic but said all countries must prepare for that possibility.
“We must focus on containment while doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news briefing. “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”
As of Monday, WHO said there are 79,331 global cases, including more than 2,600 deaths, primarily in China.
Other countries have increasingly alarming numbers as well. Italy now has the largest outbreak outside of Asia with 229 cases, more than half in the region of Lombardy, home to Milan.
Iran also said Monday that 12 people had died of coronavirus, the most deaths of any country except China.