WHO declares coronavirus a global health emergency
31 January 2020
The World Health Organisation on Thursday declared the new coronavirus a global emergency, as the outbreak continued to spread outside China.
The WHO decision comes after the virus took a toll of at least 213 people in China, with almost 10,000 cases of the virus.
The WHO said there had been 98 cases in 18 other countries, but no deaths.
Most international cases are in people who had been to the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
"The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, Dr Tedros described the virus as an "unprecedented outbreak" that has been met with an "unprecedented response".
He praised the "extraordinary measures" Chinese authorities had taken, and said there was no reason to limit trade or travel to China.
"Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China," he said.
But various countries have taken steps to close borders or cancel flights, and companies like Google, Ikea, Starbucks and Tesla have closed their shops or stopped operations.
The only concern is that it could spread to countries with weaker health systems.
Reporting on the current situation and the measures taken to contain the disease, Chinese health ministry said there are now 7,711 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1,370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
The WHO secretariat said there are now 83 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only 7 had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.
At its first meeting, the committee had expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not.
The second meeting takes place in view of significant increases in numbers of cases and additional countries reporting confirmed cases.
The committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak. China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in the rapid development of diagnostic tools.
The committee also acknowledged that there are still many unknowns, cases have now been reported in five WHO regions in one month, and human-to-human transmission has occurred outside Wuhan and outside China.
The committee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk. It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.
The committee agreed that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and proposed the following advice to be issued as Temporary Recommendations.
The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success.