Name for virus yet to come: “2019-nCoV a good name for time being”
Still divided after a second day spent weighing evidence of the potential global threat posed by the coronavirus discovered in Wuhan, China last month, the emergency committee convened by WHO today declined to declare the spread of the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
“Now is not the time,” Professor Didier Houssin, the committee’s chair said. “Some” on the committee, he added, said that limited spread to other countries, and measures taken by China government officials that have included cordoning off the city of Wuhan and other areas where the coronavirus has spread, made declaration of a PHEIC premature.
Prof. Houssin added that the committee advises China to continue a policy of transparency and sharing data.
“Make no mistake,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “This is an emergency in China. It is not yet a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”
He will not hesitate to reconvene the committee in the days and weeks to follow, Dr. Tedros added.
Of the 584 patients confirmed to have the virus so far, he noted, 575 were in China. All of the 17 deaths attributed to the virus, he added, occurred there. One quarter of confirmed patients were severely ill, and most of the patients who died had additional conditions that compromised their health, he said.
While understanding of how the virus spreads, including how easily it is transmitted, remains limited, he said, the human-to-human transmission appears to be limited so far to family groups and to health workers caring for people sick with the virus.
Although apparently supportive of Chinese officials’s quarantine of affected areas, Dr. Tedros added that WHO does not recommend any further travel restrictions. Exit screening in airports for affected areas is recommended, he said, “as part of a comprehensive set of measures to prevent the spread.”
WHO also includes hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes, among its recommendations to individuals.
WHO Health Emergencies Program Director Dr. Michael Ryan cautioned against characterizing the outbreak based on current data. “We have to be very very careful at the beginning of an epidemic,” he said. While noting that the number of deaths so far is relatively low compared to the numbers in outbreaks of coronaviruses SARS and MERS, “The facts are 17 people have died, and their families grieve them this evening.”