The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the Novel Coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
Outside China, there are now 98 confirmed cases of the virus in 18 countries, including eight person-to-person transmissions in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and the U.S, with over at least 170 deaths, and 7736 confirmed infected cases.
The Director General, WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, who made the declaration after an extra ordinary emergency meeting in Geneva last night, said, “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it, hence the declaration.”
This is only the sixth time in the history of the world health body that such an emergency has been declared, with recent declarations being during the last Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Zika virus in Asia.
The WHO reserves the designation for “extraordinary events” that pose a public health risk by threatening to spread internationally.
Ghebreyesus said: “The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.
“Let me be clear: this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak. As you know, I was in China just a few days ago, where I met with President Xi Jinping. I left in absolutely no doubt about China’s commitment to transparency, and to protecting the world’s people.
“To the people of China and to all of those around the world who have been affected by this outbreak, we want you to know that the world stands with you. We are working diligently with national and international public health partners to bring this outbreak under control as fast as possible.”
He said so far, there has not been any death so far outside China, adding that although the numbers were still relatively small compared to the number of cases in China, the world must act together now to limit further spread.
He said the vast majority of cases outside China have a travel history to Wuhan, or contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan.
“We don’t know what sort of damage this virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility. For all of these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of Novel Coronavirus,” he stated.