The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of novel Coronavirus a global health emergency.
The declaration comes in the wake of 170 people losing their lives to the virus that was first identified in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China.
With 7 736 confirmed cases of the virus in China and 83 exportations to other countries, the WHO Emergency Committee held its second meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday to discuss the outbreak.
“We don’t know what this virus would do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help prepare countries for that possibility. For this reason, I’m declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) over the outbreak of novel Coronavirus,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus.
During the WHO meeting, Chinese authorities reported on the current situation and the public health measures being taken.
To date, there are 7 711 confirmed and 12 167 suspected cases throughout the country.
Of the confirmed cases, 1 370 are severe and 170 people have died while 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
The Coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning it is transmitted between animals and people. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Providing an overview of the situation in other countries, WHO confirmed 83 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only seven 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,” the WHO said in a statement.
In an effort to contain the virus, WHO called on the Chinese government to continue to identify the zoonotic source of the outbreak, and particularly the potential for circulation with WHO as soon as it becomes available.
WHO urged China to continue conducting exit screening at international airports and ports, with the aim of early detection of symptomatic travelers for further evaluation and treatment, while minimizing interference with international traffic.
Advise to all countries on outbreak
With further international exportation of cases expected to appear in any country, the WHO called for continuous surveillance on the outbreak.
“All countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO. Technical advice is available on the WHO website,” said WHO.
The Emergency Committee did not however recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available.
Countries must inform WHO about any travel measures taken, as required by the International Health Regulations (IHR).
To the global community
In line with Article 43 of the IHR, the WHO reminded states and parties that they are obliged to send to WHO the public health rationale and justification within 48 hours of their implementation should they plan to implement additional health measures that significantly interfere with international traffic.
These include the refusal of entry or departure of international travellers, baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, goods, and the like, or their delay, for more than 24 hours.
“WHO will review the justification and may request countries to reconsider their measures. WHO is required to share with other States Parties the information about measures and the justification received,” said WHO.