WHO declares public health emergency as coronavirus escalates
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an international public health emergency as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.
Following an emergency committee meeting in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom, WHO director general, said: “We don’t know what sort of damage this [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.”
“For all of these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of [coronavirus].
Last week, the organization said that the virus did not yet constitute the emergency classification.
However, more than 8,000 cases have now been recorded in 18 countries around the world, including more than 170 deaths.
The health body defines an international public health emergency as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a “public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease”. Previous emergencies have included the Ebola and Zika viruses.
WHO committee chairman Didier Houssin said the classification would allow the health organization to better coordinate an international response to the virus.
The declaration came hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of person-to-person transmission of the virus in the US. The patient is one of eight human-to-human cases of transmission outside China.
Health officials now expect the virus is “highly likely” to reach UK shores within days, with Britain’s four chief medical staff upgrading the country’s risk level from low to moderate.
Hundreds of British citizens are today being returned to the UK from the Chinese province of Wuhan — the epicentre of the virus. They will be quarantined for two weeks on their arrival.
At least 34 airlines have now suspensed all flights to China, including major operators British Airways, Virgin and Lufthansa.