2020-01-31| COVID-19

WHO Declares 2019-nCoV Outbreak, a Global Health Emergency

by Rajaneesh K. Gopinath
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The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, officially declared the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) at the press conference held in Geneva on January 30. Due to the divergent views expressed in the first meeting, this decision was not made earlier, inviting the ire of critics. However, on Thursday, when the Emergency Committee convened for a second meeting, members took the rising number of cases in other countries into consideration and proposed the declaration.

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” Tedros 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” he added.

According to WHO, there are currently 98 confirmed cases of infection in 18 countries outside China, of which 8 cases of human-to-human transmission has occurred in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and the United States; no deaths have occurred outside China. The first case involving person-to-person transmission was reported in the US on Thursday, making the toll of infected patients to 6 in the country. This declaration will allow countries to take more forthright action but Tedros emphasized that WHO “doesn’t recommend – and actually opposes” restrictions on travel or trade with China. However, in response to the death toll reaching 213 in China, the US State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory, warning its citizens against traveling to the country.

In the last 10 years, WHO has declared five international emergency public health outbreaks:

  1. 2009 – H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu) Virus
  2. 2014 – Wild-type Poliovirus
  3. 2014 – Ebola virus
  4. 2016 – Zika virus
  5. 2018-2020 – Kivu Ebola virus

Related Article: WHO Officially Labels COVID-19 Outbreak a Pandemic



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