WHO postpones declaring novel coronavirus a global health emergency

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WHO has postponed making a decision on January 22 whether the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan city of China constitutes Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The committee will meet again today.

The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee has postponed making a decision on Wednesday whether the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan city of China constitutes Public Health Emergency of International Concern. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said physicians need more information and so the committee will meet again on Thursday. The novel virus has already infected 571 people and killed 17. It has spread to 24 provinces in China. Imported cases have been reported from a few countries — Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.S., Hong Kong Autonomous Region, and Macau.

“The situation with new coronavirus is evolving and complex. For that reason, I have decided to ask the Emergency Committee to meet again tomorrow to continue their discussion, and the Chair, Dr Houssin, has agreed with that request,” the Director-General said during a conference call after the meeting on Wednesday.

“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern on new coronavirus is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence,” he said.

“Today, there was an excellent discussion during the committee meeting, but it was also clear that to proceed we need more information,” he added. “We will meet again tomorrow to continue the discussion.”

Apparently, the emergency committee on Wednesday was split on whether to designate the illness a global health emergency.

Chinese authorities said many of the patients with infection caused by the novel virus had come into contact with seafood and meat markets. They have also found evidence of human-to-human transmission including health-care workers. Sixteen health-care workers have been infected as on January 21. They said the virus was stable and not showing any kind of unusual activity.

The last time WHO declared a global health emergency was in 2019 for the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo. The agency also declared global emergencies for the 2016 Zika virus, the 2009 H1N1 swine flu and the 2014 polio and Ebola outbreaks.

Published in The Hindu on January 23, 2020