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WHO: Coronavirus not yet global health emergency

By Wang Mingjie in London, Wang Xiaodong, Xin Wen in Beijing and Zhou Lihua in Wuhan | | Updated: 2020-01-24 02:40
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China praised for reaction to disease outbreak

Top officials from the World Health Organization, or WHO, said on Thursday that the new coronavirus that has affected hundreds of people globally is not yet a global health emergency.

The briefing came after the WHO Emergency Committee spent a second day discussing the topic, but the committee concluded that it is still too early to declare a public health emergency of international concern, given the restrictive and binary nature of the outbreak.

As it had been on Wednesday, the committee remained divided over the decision to determine the status of the outbreak.

"I am not declaring a public health emergency of international concern today," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"Make no mistake.  This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency. WHO's risk assessment is that the outbreak is a very high risk in China, and a high risk regionally and globally."

The WHO said it would continue to review and support efforts to investigate the animal source of the new coronavirus outbreak, the extent of person-to-person transmission, and the screening efforts in other provinces of China.

According to the committee, the new virus, which is now named 2019-nCoV, can cause severe disease, and can kill, although for most people, it causes milder symptoms.  It is understood that among those infected, one-quarter of patients have experienced severe disease.  Most of those who have died had underlying health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or cardiovascular disease that had weakened their immune systems.

There is human-to-human transmission in China, but for now it appears limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients, WHO officials said. There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China, but that might happen.

As of yet, there is little information regarding the original source of this virus, its clinical features, its severity and how easily it spreads.

For the moment, the WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade but advises exit screening at airports as part of a comprehensive set of containment measures.

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