The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a "public health emergency of international concern" over the global outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), reversing a week-ago decision by its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee. The move comes "not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noting his confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak. "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 said.
The global outbreak continues to spark a myriad of measures outside China to prevent its spread, such as travel restrictions, airport screenings and border closings. But Tedros said that "there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade," measures that his comments seemed to suggest are inconsistent with evidence about how to best handle the situation.
WHO is instead emphasizing the need to accelerate development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to prevent, treat and detect the virus; to actively combat against the spread of rumors and misinformation about the outbreak; to review preparedness plans to identify gaps; to encourage data and knowledge sharing; and to promote solidarity and cooperation among affected nations.
“One of WHO’s main aims is to strengthen global diagnostic capacity for 2019-nCoV detection to improve surveillance, early detection and track the spread of disease,” the group said in situation report published earlier Jan. 30. To that end, it has formed a network of specialized referral labs to support confirmation of cases, pursued efforts to strengthen national capacity for detection of the virus, and worked toward ensuring wide availability of coronavirus assays.
Additionally, WHO said it had activated an R&D blueprint to accelerate diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics and has provided a disease commodity package on its website to outline the essential biomedical equipment, medicines and supplies necessary to care for patients with 2019-nCoV.
At last update, there were 7,818 cases of 2019-nCoV infection confirmed globally, with the majority (7,736) in China. So far, China has reported 170 deaths attributed to the infection, while 1,370 cases in the country have been classified as severe. Chinese health authorities reported 12,167 suspected cases of infection.
Outside China, Tedros said, there are now 98 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV infection in 18 countries, including eight cases of human-to-human transmission in four nations: Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the U.S., according to WHO.
The vast majority of cases outside China have a travel history to Wuhan, or contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan, he said. In the U.S., that still remains true, with the CDC confirming Thursday that the virus spread from one person who had visited Wuhan to another person who had no history of travel there after the two shared a household one day last week. Both patients are in stable condition.
"Extraordinary measures" taken in China to contain the outbreak, despite "severe social and economic impact," have set a new standard for outbreak response, Tedros said during an evening media briefing. "Thanks to their efforts, the number of cases in the rest of the world so far has remained relatively small," he said.