WHO Declares New Coronavirus as Public Health Emergency

WHO Declares New Coronavirus as Public Health Emergency
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As of January 31, the disease has been confirmed in at least 20 countries outside China

Nayanika Mukherjee
January 31 , 2020
03 Min Read

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the deadly coronavirus from China (2019-nCoV) as an international public health emergency. In a meeting at Geneva, the rarely-used designation was conferred to boost international efforts in tackling the disease. This will now allow the WHO to announce global recommendations which must be followed internationally. The designation has been previously used to improve coordination for viral outbreaks such as swine flu, polio, Zika, and Ebola. 

"The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries," said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems”.

Ghebreyesus met Chinese President Xi Jinping on January 28 to exchange information on the outbreak. The WHO will collaborate on containment measures and conduct research to advance scientific understanding. China has shared biological material with the organisation to help develop vaccines and treatments. A WHO delegation will also visit China to understand the outbreak and guide response efforts.

Across the World

India’s Health Ministry has issued a statement for travellers and advised hygiene guidelines to avoid exposure. Signs have been put up at our airports to encourage self-reporting if passengers feel they are suffering from symptoms. Immigration officers have also been sensitised about the disease. 

Several countries have issued advisories about travelling to China, and Russia has closed its eastern borders with the country. Outside the mainland, cases have been confirmed in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Australia, Canada, the USA, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, the UAE, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. Out of this list, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Germany have reported instances of person-to-person transmission.

Read | First Case of the New Coronavirus Confirmed in India

Inside China

Beijing has confirmed 9,692 cases of the virus, with another 102,000 people being kept under observation for possible symptoms. Two hospitals are being constructed at a rapid pace in Wuhan to contain the infection. The first is expected to open by February 3, and the second by February 5.

The 2019-nCoV was first detected in December last year in Wuhan, China. There is no known cure for the disease, and no conclusive information on how it is transmitted. It’s suspected that it came from animal-human contact at Huanan Seafood Market, where live and dead animals—dogs, hares, civets—are also sold. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma has pledged 100 million yuan via his foundation to help find a vaccine. 

Read | China Shuts Down Forbidden City and Great Wall

About the Virus

The new coronavirus is part of a larger family of viruses that cause respiratory illness, most of them being mild in nature. The common cold is part of this family, but more severe diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) are also caused by coronaviruses. 

Respiratory symptoms among the infected are fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, patients can suffer from pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and death. The new virus is zoonotic, meaning it can jump from animals to people. There are several known coronaviruses that circulate in animals that are yet to infect humans. 

Standard guidelines to prevent infection include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. One must also avoid close contact with those suffering from any respiratory ailments. 

According to the US Centre for Disease Control, old people and those with weak immune systems or underlying health problems are most at risk of infection.

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