THE World Health Organization has declared the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.
“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva.
The WHO said there had been 98 cases in 18 countries besides China, but no deaths. The main concern was the spread of disease to countries with “weaker health systems”.
Tedros described the situation as an “unprecedented outbreak”, but said the emergency declaration was “not a vote of no confidence in China”.
The declaration is a message to all UN member states that the situation is “serious”. Countries are free to deploy preventive measures, including sealing borders and suspending air travel.
“Most cases have emerged in people who have travelled from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began,” said Tedros. “However, there have been eight cases of human-to-human infection—in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.”
As on Friday (31), there were 7,711 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases in China, said WHO data. While the death toll stood at 170, about 1,370 patients were in severe condition and 124 people had recovered.
“It is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk,” the WHO statement said.