WHO declines to declare Chinese virus a global health emergency

WHO declines to declare Chinese virus a global health emergency
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The spread of the coronavirus that originated from China is not yet a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Thursday.

"Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, said during a press conference.

The decision was based on the limited number of cases outside China, as well as Chinese efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

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The virus is thought to have originated in the transit hub of Wuhan, and Chinese officials have closed transport into and out of the city of 11 million, including through buses, subways, trains and the international airport.

Tedros said the WHO assessment is that the outbreak is a very high risk in China and a high risk regionally and globally. However, he said health officials are equipped to successfully combat the disease in China and in the countries where it has spread.

A WHO emergency committee on Wednesday was almost evenly divided and delayed the decision of whether to designate the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The committee said they needed more information to reach a consensus.

Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency committee, said the members remained divided on Thursday, but the general conclusion was that it was too early to recommend a PHEIC.

“Now is not the time. It's too early to consider that this event is a public health emergency of international concern,” Houssin said. 

The official declaration of a PHEIC is reserved for unusual and serious public health events that could result in international spread of a disease and require a coordinated international response.

The official declaration has been used in only rare occasions, like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the Zika epidemic in 2015.

Tedros said there have been 584 cases reported to the WHO, 575 of which have been found in China. All of the 17 deaths were reported in China, but cases have been reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, America and Vietnam.

Tedros said other countries should be prepared to see additional cases and that the WHO is ready to reconvene at a “moment's notice.”