China has reported another fall in new coronavirus infections outside of its epicentre but world health officials warn it is too early to make predictions about the outbreak as new cases and fears of contagion increase elsewhere.
China's health commission confirmed 648 new infections - higher than a day earlier - but only 18 were outside of Hubei province, the lowest number outside of the epicentre since authorities started publishing data a month ago.
But new infections outside of China continue to worry world health authorities, with South Korea on Sunday reporting a fourth death due to the virus and 123 new cases, bringing its total to 556, having doubled from Friday to Saturday.
Cases in Italy, Europe's worst hit country, more than quadrupled to 79 on Saturday, with two deaths.
Japan confirmed 27 new cases on Saturday, while 10 new cases in Iran took the total to 29 there, and six deaths - all since Tuesday - deepening unease at home and in neighbouring countries.
The World Health Organisation said it was channelling efforts into helping to prepare vulnerable countries, including 13 in Africa with links to China, for a virus that has killed more than 2400 people.
Stressing that the number of cases outside of China was still relatively few, the WHO said it was most concerned about new infections that had no clear link to China, like travel or contact with a confirmed case.
The disease has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside China, killing more than a dozen people, according to a Reuters tally. It has been fatal in 2 per cent of reported cases, with a risk of death higher for older patients, and relatively few cases among children, according to the WHO.
More than half the new cases in South Korea were linked to a church in Daegu, after a woman who attended services there tested positive for the virus. She had not recently been overseas.
Japan's health minister apologised on Saturday after a woman who was allowed to leave the coronavirus-struck Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive. More than 600 cases have been reported aboard the vessel, the biggest outbreak outside China.
The woman disembarked on Wednesday following a two-week quarantine but a second test showed she was positive. Twenty-three other passengers would be re-tested.
"We will take all necessary measures, like double checks, to prevent a recurrence," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.
The number of cases in Japan not connected to the cruise rose to 132 on Saturday, and the US raised its travel advisory warning level for Japan.
China said the number of new deaths on Saturday from COVID-19 was 97, all but one of which were in Hubei.
Eighty-two of those were in the provincial capital Wuhan.
In total, China has reported 76,936 cases, and 2442 deaths. The WHO says the virus is severe or critical in only a fifth of infected patients, and mild in the rest.
State run television on Sunday urged people to avoid complacency, warning China had yet to reach the turning point. It said people had been gathering in public areas and tourist spots without wearing masks.
Analysts have been closely watching out for any secondary wave of infections as transport restrictions are eased and many migrant workers return to factories and offices, as concern mounts globally over disruptions from containment measures in the world's second-biggest economy.
In Italy, schools and universities were closed and three Serie A soccer matches postponed in virus-hit Lombardy and Veneto.
The announcement by Iranian authorities of multiple cases and deaths in less than five days has sparked online fears about a cover-up by officials.
Iran's neighbours have taken measures to keep the virus at bay, including Iraq suspending flights to Iran and barring its nationals from entry. Kuwait has stopped flights to and from Iran and Saudi Arabia announced curbs on travel there.