Coronavirus Declared a Public Health Emergency

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: WHO
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a public health emergency on Thursday, as global outbreak includes 98 cases in 18 countries, outside China. The WHO intervention comes as the number of people confirmed with the virus rose to over 4500 globally on 28 January, the greatest number being in China.

The WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had met President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on Tuesday to discuss about the pandemic disease.

They shared the latest information on the novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV) outbreak and reiterated their commitment to bring it under control.

The National Health Commission presented China’s strong public health capacities and resources to respond and manage respiratory disease outbreaks. The discussions focused on continued collaboration on containment measures in Wuhan, public health measures in other cities and provinces, conducting further studies on the severity and transmissibility of the virus, continuing to share data, and for China to share biological material with WHO.

These measures will advance scientific understanding of the virus and contribute to the development of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and treatments. The two sides agreed that WHO will send international experts to visit China as soon as possible to work with Chinese counterparts on increasing understanding of the outbreak to guide global response efforts.

“Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” said Dr Tedros.

According to WHO, much remains to be understood about 2019-nCoV. The source of the outbreak and the extent to which it has spread in China are not yet known. While the current understanding of the disease remains limited, most cases reported to date have been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness.

Both WHO and China noted that the number of cases being reported, including those outside China, is deeply concerning. Better understanding of the transmissibility and severity of the virus is urgently required to guide other countries on appropriate response measures, WHO said.

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Rakesh Raman