Coronavirus: WHO declares international health emergency

coronavirus 4

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a “public health emergency of international concern” over the outbreak of the 2019nCoV, or the Wuhan coronavirus. The international body did not recommend travel and trade restrictions.

The declaration comes hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S., in a woman who traveled to China and then infected her husband. As confirmed cases in China have topped 8,000, nations are taking drastic measures to stop the virus’s spread.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the coronavirus “a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak” at a press conference on Thursday, but said the WHO was not recommending restrictions of trade or travel with China, where the virus originated.

WHO Director-General praised China‘s efforts to contain the outbreak, saying he had never seen a nation respond so aggressively to a disease, including building a new hospital in just 10 days.

Tedros pointed out that the declaration was “not a vote of no confidence in China,” but made out of concern for other countries, with “weaker” healthcare systems.

China’s response to the outbreak has been “very impressive,” the WHO chief added. “So is China’s commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries.”

While the majority of coronavirus cases have been registered in China, the WHO confirmed there were 98 confirmed cases elsewhere in the world including eight cases of direct transmission in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the U.S.

The “vast majority” of cases outside of China have either traveled to Wuhan or been in contact with someone who has, the WHO officials noted.

“The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation,” Tedros said. “We are all in this together, and we can only stop it together.”

He also urged people to be careful of rumors and rushing to judgment.

“This is the time for facts not fear,” Tedros said. “This is the time for science not rumors. This is the time for solidarity not stigma.”

Coronavirus is the unofficial name of the pathogen, which the WHO is referring to by its interim name, 2019-nCoV. The condition caused by it is being called “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease.”

The virus first appeared in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, on December 31. Since then, it has infected at least 8,130 people in China, at least 100 of whom have died.

The 2019-nCoV appears to be closely related to the SARS vector, which infected 8,100 people across 17 different countries in 2003, killing 774.

The much faster pace of coronavirus infections, however, has the WHO and public health officials in China very concerned.

In the past, the WHO has come under fire for raising the alert too soon as well as too late. The last respiratory illness to trigger a health emergency was the flu pandemic of 2009, which caused widespread alarm but ended up being relatively mild. The WHO’s emergency committee, a group of infectious-disease experts, last week delayed a decision on whether to make the emergency declaration.

Major developments

India and the Philippines reported their first confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as the illness continues its global spread.

A student who attended Wuhan University tested positive in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Meanwhile, a 38-year-old female Chinese patient who arrived from Wuhan via Hong Kong on Jan. 21 has been confirmed as the first case in the Philippines.

Passengers will be allowed to leave a cruise ship that was quarantined in Italy, after a woman with coronavirus symptoms tested negative for the disease. The Costa Smeralda and the 7,000 people on board had been barred from leaving an Italian port while the case was investigated.

Cruise operator Carnival Corp. said Italian health authorities had diagnosed the 54-year-old passenger with the flu. Passengers will be allowed to disembark if they like, or can carry on with the ship as it continues its voyage, the company said.

A woman in Chicago who had been diagnosed last week with the coronavirus infected her husband, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, the first case of human-to-human transmission to occur in the U.S.

Both patients are in their 60s and are doing well while being kept in isolation, CDC officials said on the call. The agency said the virus is not spreading widely and that the risk to the U.S. public remains low.

Disease experts are still trying to understand exactly how the virus spreads, and at what point after a person has become infected they become contagious. It is also not clear, said CDC officials, how long a person has to be sick for before they will test positive. Both factors can present a challenge for public health workers who are keeping close tabs on contacts of people considered at risk.

European carriers led by British Airways said they are temporarily quitting China as the deadly coronavirus spreads, following decisions by U.S. carriers to limit flights to the country.

BA took the most dramatic step, saying Thursday it will cease flights to Beijing and Shanghai until March 1 after acting on U.K. Foreign Office advice. Iberia, its Spanish sister carrier at IAG SA, is also suspending operations, while Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Air France and SAS AB said they will exit China until February 9.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the decision on canceling flights would be left to U.S. airlines, for now. Almost 11% of flights scheduled to or from China were scrapped between January 23 and January 28, based on research from Cirium, which analyzes air travel.

The Russian government ordered its vast land border with China shut as the Kremlin moves to keep the deadly coronavirus at bay. The closure affects movement of people, not goods.

While it is still possible to fly to China, the Foreign Ministry warned Russians to refrain from non-essential travel to the country. Russia has not reported any cases of the virus.

The U.S. will provide an additional flight to evacuate private citizens from Wuhan on or about February 3.

An earlier flight carrying more than 200 Americans arrived at March Air Reserve Base in California, where the passengers are being monitored.

Hong Kong warned it is struggling to supply enough surgical masks. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the government has bought 13 million, but public hospitals are using five or six times as many as normal and Hong Kong is stepping up local production at correctional facilities to keep up with demand. Another 24 million should be available at retail outlets soon, he added.

Hong Kong’s population is about 7 million. Chief Executive Carrie Lam will hold a briefing Friday on the government’s latest measures against the spread of the virus, Cheung said.

At least one Chinese city and several provinces have extended the Lunar New Year holiday beyond February 2 in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Shanghai, the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia and provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu have said businesses need not start operations until at least February 10. Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has said the holiday will last until at least February 14.

China had already extended the holiday nationwide on Monday. It was originally due to end on January 30, but was stretched to February 2.

President Trump appointed a task force to coordinate the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The task force will be led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, said White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement. Other figures include Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

The White House also plans to send CDC experts to China to help respond to the outbreak.

Concern that the virus outbreak will disrupt the global supply chain rippled through Taiwan’s stock market. Taiwan’s Taiex plunged more than 5%, the most since October 2018, as trading reopened following the Lunar New Year break.

Foxconn’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which assembles the majority of Apple Inc.’s iPhones from China and has minor operations in Wuhan, sank as much as 10%. Hon Hai said all of its facilities will resume full-scale production only from Feb. 10, more than a week later than originally planned.

Three of the 206 people who returned to Japan from Hubei Province on Wednesday tested positive for the new coronavirus, with two not showing any symptoms, Japan Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a parliamentary committee.

Two other evacuees on the charter plane declined to be tested and were sent home, according to the Health Ministry. Kato said officials did not have the legal power to force them to be tested. A second charter plane carrying 210 more evacuees arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan on Thursday morning.



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