Other countries should learn from China and adopt more stringent measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic despite possible negative short-term impacts on the economy and public freedom, the international medical journal The Lancet says.
The journal warns that the window for global containment is closing and poorer countries with weak health systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Middle East will be particularly vulnerable to a pandemic.
Over the past week, the virus has spread far more quickly outside China than within its borders, infecting more than 100,000 people in over 90 countries.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the spread of the deadly pneumonia-like illness was "deeply concerning" and urged "all countries to make containment their highest priority".
In an editorial - "Covid-19: too little, too late?" - the Lancet said that Italy, which has quickly become the epicentre for further spread across Europe, took action that was "slow and insufficient".
"There is now a real danger that countries have done too little, too late to contain the epidemic," it said.
The journal said countries should have learned from China despite their differences in political and economic systems, citing a report by a team of WHO and Chinese experts after a trip last month to Wuhan, ground zero of the epidemic.
The WHO has described China's drastic disease control measures, including lockdowns across the country, as probably the most "ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history".
Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, has killed more than 3000 people and infected 80,000 throughout China, and Beijing sees it as the biggest public health crisis since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
"China seems to have avoided a substantial number of cases and fatalities, although there have been severe effects on the nation's economy," the journal said.
"Although other nations lack China's command-and-control political economy, there are important lessons that presidents and prime ministers can learn from China's experience.
The signs are that those lessons have not been learned."
While various countries across Europe, Latin America and Africa reported their first cases on Friday, the number of new cases reported on Saturday in China, where the virus originated late last year, was the lowest in weeks.
Developed countries must act more decisively and aggressively to "reflect the national security threat" the disease posed, it said.
"So far, evidence suggests that the colossal public health efforts of the Chinese government have saved thousands of lives. They must abandon their fears of the negative short-term public and economic consequences that may follow from restricting public freedoms as part of more assertive infection control measures," it said.
But it also admitted that inadequate health services in economically underdeveloped countries, such as Iran, could be easily overwhelmed by the deadly virus and would not be able to fight it by themselves.
"Public health measures, such as surveillance, exhaustive contact tracing, social distancing, travel restrictions, educating the public on hand hygiene, ensuring flu vaccinations for the frail and immunocompromised, and postponing non-essential operations and services will all play their part in delaying the spread of infection and dispersing pressure on hospitals," it said.
"Individual governments will need to decide where they draw the line on implementing these measures. They will have to weigh the ethical, social, and economic risks versus proven health benefits."
-South China Morning Post