#Coronavirus: WHO Declares New Outbreak A Public Health Emergency Of International Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the new coronavirus outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern, officials announced yesterday (Jan. 30).
The news comes as the case count and death toll from the virus have soared in recent days. As of Thursday (Jan. 30), there were 9,815 cases and 213 deaths in China, as well as 98 cases in 18 other countries, the WHO said.
“The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, said in a news conference Thursday. “We are all in this together.”
Today’s announcement is a reversal of WHO’s decision last week not to declare a public health emergency of international concern.
The main reason for the declaration is concern that the virus could spread to countries with weaker health systems. “We don’t know what sort of damage the virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system,” Ghebreyesus said.
As for the outbreak in China itself, Ghebreyesus emphasized that “WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak” there.
The declaration can help WHO better coordinate an international response to the outbreak, particularly in countries that are less prepared for the virus.
Representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China reported on the current situation and the public health measures being taken. There are now 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
The WHO Secretariat provided an overview of the situation in other countries. There are now 82 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.
Conclusions and advice
The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government authorities, 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 very strong measures the country has taken include daily contact with WHO and comprehensive multi-sectoral approaches to prevent further spread. It has also taken public health measures in other cities and provinces; is conducting studies on the severity and transmissibility of the virus and sharing data and biological material.
The country has also agreed to work with other countries who need their support. The measures China has taken are good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world.
The Committee acknowledged the leading role of WHO and its partners.
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.
In line with the need for global solidarity, the committee felt that a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world that may need additional support for that.