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WHO committee says coronavirus not a global emergency

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday, January 23, 2020 said the novel coronavirus ailment is not a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Several members of the WHO Emergency Committee considered that it was too early to declare it PHEIC, given its restrictive and binary nature.

In a statement issued from its headquarters in Geneva, the UN body said the Committee would reconvene in approximately 10 days’ time, or earlier should the Director-General deem it necessary.

It said the members expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not.

“At that time, the advice was that the event did not constitute a PHEIC.

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“But the Committee members agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that the Committee should be reconvened in a matter of days to examine the situation further.’’

The Committee, however, urged to support ongoing efforts through a WHO international multidisciplinary mission, including national experts.

“The mission would review and support efforts to investigate the animal source of the outbreak, the extent of human-to-human transmission.

“The screening efforts in other provinces of China, the enhancement of surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections in these regions and to reinforce containment and mitigation measures.

“A mission would provide information to the international community to aid in understanding of the situation and its potential public health impact.

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“WHO should continue to provide all necessary technical and operational support to respond to this outbreak and to allow for the advancement of research and scientific developments in relation to this novel coronavirus,’’ it stated.

According to the statement, in the face of an evolving epidemiological situation and the restrictive binary nature of declaring a PHEIC or not, WHO should consider a more nuanced system, which would allow an intermediate level of alert.

It said such a system would better reflect the severity of an outbreak, its impact, and the required measures, and would facilitate improved international coordination, including research efforts for developing medical counter measures.

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Novel coronavirus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

By Wednesday, there were more than 440 confirmed cases, and 17 reported deaths, almost doubling the death toll in the space of one day.

All the deaths have occurred in Wuhan, which has a population of some 11 million, similar to that of the UK capital, London. Now the entire city, has in effect, been quarantined, according to news reports.

The Chinese city of Macau reportedly confirmed its first case of Novel Coronavirus, and there have been cases in Thailand, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the US.

Several places have reportedly stepped up airport screening procedures for passengers arriving from Wuhan, including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the USA, Russian and Japan. 

By Cecilia Ologunagba

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