WHO declares China virus outbreak an international emergency

GENEVA, Jan 30 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization declared on Thursday that the coronavirus epidemic in China now constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, announced the decision after a meeting of its Emergency Committee, an independent panel of experts, amid mounting evidence of the virus spreading to some 18 countries.

Employees of the virology department of the Charite hospital prepare a test for the new coronavirus in Berlin, Germany, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt© Thomson Reuters Employees of the virology department of the Charite hospital prepare a test for the new coronavirus in Berlin, Germany, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Tedros told a news conference in Geneva that recent weeks have witnessed an unprecedented outbreak which has been met by an unprecedented response.

“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he said.

“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” he added.

The WHO panel, chaired by Didier Houssin of France, is composed of 16 independent experts.

Korean Air ground staff wearing face masks for protection against highly contagious coronavirus is working at the counter to check in passengers in the international terminal of the San Francisco International Airport in Millbrae, California, United States on January 28, 2020. There are now 8,235 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 171 death and 143 recovered. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)© Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto Korean Air ground staff wearing face masks for protection against highly contagious coronavirus is working at the counter to check in passengers in the international terminal of the San Francisco International Airport in Millbrae, California, United States on January 28, 2020. There are now 8,235 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 171 death and 143 recovered. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Twice last week the experts had decided not to declare an emergency while they sought more information from China and awaited evidence of confirmed person-to-person spread of the virus in other countries, so as to meet their criteria for a global emergency.

The declaration of a global emergency triggers recommendations to all countries aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of disease, while avoiding unnecessary interference with trade and travel.

© 2020 SOPA Images SAINT-PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – 2020/01/24: A Chinese tourist wearing a medical protection mask is seen near Hermitage at Dvortsovaya (Palace) square. All passenger flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg from China’s Wuhan pass checking for coronavirus symptoms. The outbreak of coronavirus has so far claimed 26 lives and infected more than 800 others, according to media reports. (Photo by Sergei Mikhailichenko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It covers temporary recommendations for national health authorities worldwide, which include stepping up their monitoring, preparedness and containment measures.

Although the WHO has no legal authority to sanction countries, it could ask governments to provide scientific justification for any travel or trade restrictions that they impose in the event of an international emergency.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alex Richardson and Alexandra Hudson)

Source: Reuters.com

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