Director-General for the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has declared the deadly, novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) a “public health emergency for international concern”, as the disease spreads to 18 countries across the world.
Ghebreyesus—speaking in Geneva at a press conference Thursday (Jan 30)—noted that while the declaration is not indignation of China’s response, the world needs to take proactive steps to stem the spread of 2019-nCoV before it becomes a full-blown pandemic.
“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,” he said. “We don’t know what sort of damage this novel coronavirus 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.”
He added: “For all of these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of the coronavirus.”
The WHO Director-General, who recently returned from a visit to Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping, commended China for its response to the outbreak—which it reported to the governing health body in December 2019.
“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,” the WHO Director-General contended.
More importantly, Ghebreyesus argued, the declaration of a public health emergency is among the WHO’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the coronavirus and ensuring a measured and evidence-based response.
“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take,” he disclosed.
In total, there are now 7834 confirmed 2019-nCoV cases, including 7736 in China, representing almost 99% of all reported cases worldwide. Over 170 people have lost their lives to this outbreak, all of them in China. Outside of China, 98 cases across 18 countries have been confirmed. According to the WHO, human-to-human transmission has been recorded in four countries outside of the Wuhan, wider China epicentre: Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.