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WHO declares novel coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency

The WHO secretary-general said that the main reason behind the declaration is not the events transpiring in China, but rather, the events transpiring in 18 other countries besides China, that have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus

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On Thursday (Jan 30), the World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency.

According to npr.org, WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the press the reasons for which the organisation made the declaration. “Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak and which has been met by an unprecedented response.” He stressed though, that the main reason behind the declaration is not the events transpiring in China, but rather, the events transpiring in the 18 other countries besides China, that have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. “Let me be clear — this vote is not a declaration of no confidence in China.”

The Wuhan virus outbreak has met the three main criteria of the WHO’s procedure for declaring a global public health emergency–namely that it is an “extraordinary event” which “constitute[s] a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease” and which “potentially require[s] a coordinated international response.”

According to a report by NBC News, of the 7,874 confirmed novel coronavirus cases, 99% are from China. However, 98 of the 7,874 cases have been confirmed in 18 other countries, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, and Singapore.

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Despite criticisms that the Chinese government has received given the outbreak which oftentimes seems to be getting out of control, Dr. Tedros said that China should be commended. “The speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world are very impressive. The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe social and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese people,” he said.

The WHO’s greatest concern is the heightened vulnerability of countries with insufficient resources to deal with the outbreak. According to Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton in England, “This declaration may make it easier to access and mobilize further funds for resource-poor countries, and promote the need for further global cooperation.”

The novel coronavirus remains a major concern as there has been recent evidence that this virus is capable of being spread from human to human. Furthermore, experts still have not traced the virus to its animal origin. And to make matters worse, medical workers, who already take the necessary protective measures, have also been infected. Thus, a call for countries to “accelerate the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics,” has been made by Dr. Tedros.

To address economic concerns regarding the coronavirus outbreak, the WHO made it clear that the declaration of a global public health emergency should not obstruct a country’s economy unnecessarily. Dr. Tedros said, “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. WHO doesn’t recommend limiting trade and movement.”

The last time the WHO declared an international health crisis was in July 2019, because of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other previous declarations made were for the Zika virus in 2016 and the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

A vaccine for the Wuhan virus is yet to be found. -/TISG

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