With the deadly coronavirus spreading across the globe and deaths hitting 170, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern. The main reason for the declaration is its spread to other countries, including those “with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” the WHO said.
“I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019-nCoV,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said Thursday during a press conference on the Emergency Committee meeting on coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.
Coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to Asia, the US, Australia, Europe and the Middle East, with the illness exhibiting pneumonia-like symptoms. It was first reported to the WHO on Dec. 31, with Chinese scientists linking the disease to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include the deadly SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Tedros said Thursday there have now been 170 deaths and 7,834 confirmed cases. “We must remember that these are people, not numbers,” he said.
Declaring it a public health emergency of international concern means the WHO can provide non-binding recommendations to address how nations deal with the virus. Its coronavirus recommendations include all countries sharing data, knowledge and experience; accelerating the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; combating rumors and misinformation; reviewing preparedness plans; and evaluating resources for identifying, isolating and caring for cases and preventing transmission.
“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,” Tedros said. “We are working diligently with national and international public health partners to bring this outbreak under control as fast as possible.”
The WHO has only ever declared an international public health emergency five times previously:
Originally published Jan. 30, 12:21 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:04 p.m.: Adds detail on previous declarations of a public health emergency.