World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has asked the committee of experts that declined to declare that the spread of a new coronavirus from China is a global health emergency following its last Jan. 23 meeting, to reconvene Thursday and revisit the question. The outcome of that meeting, he said today, could be the declaration of a PHEIC — a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — or something short of that, a declaration, in effect of a warning. While the committee could decline to do either, it is, in any case, expected to deliver recommendations for coordinated and aligned international responses. The committee is expected to announce its decision after 1 p.m. ET on Thursday.
In a wide-ranging briefing today, Dr. Tedros said factors weighing into his decision included reports in three countries of limited human to human spread, for the first time outside of China. He and WHO director of emergency responses Dr. Michael Ryan had just returned from a visit to China, where, both said, they found government responses to the epidemic in the country and the to the spread of the coronavirus in other countries to be unprecedentedly strong on both technical and political levels.
“The challenge is great, the response has been massive,” Dr. Ryan said, referring to China’s efforts to contain the epidemic, both within and beyond its borders.
In addition to the reported human-to-human spread in Japan, Vietnam and Germany, continued unknowns about the extent of the spread of the virus and its severity remain concerning, Dr. Ryan said. Nearly 6,000 cases had been confirmed in China by today, Ryan noted, with 132 deaths there attributed to the virus. That represents a 2% fatality rate among those infected, Dr. Ryan noted, although that estimate is likely to change as surveillance and detection improve and lead to the discovery of more, including milder, cases of illness caused by the virus. The virus has also been confirmed in 68 people in 15 other countries, including the United States, with investigations of possible cases in additional countries, including two African countries.
WHO, as well as Chinese health officials are braced for the spread of the new coronavirus to countries lacking the resources needed to detect and contain it and the World Bank is involved in efforts to support responses in that event. WHO also is launching a uniform case-reporting form to standardize case reporting and data collection internationally, WHO emerging and zoonotic diseases director Dr. Maria Kerkhove said during the briefing.
The briefing came as countries, began large-scale evacuations of their citizens from China. Countries evacuating their citizens should be certain of their capacities to detect and contain the virus, and to monitor people who may have been exposed to the virus, Dr. Tedros noted.
Those countries include the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the removal of 210 U.S. citizens from Wuhan, China who will be brought back to the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, and the U.S. State Department are working together to bring the Americans who have been in Wuhan home on a flight during which they will be monitored by medical personnel. They will be evaluated upon arrival at a military base in Riverside County, California; and continue to be monitored for symptoms, according to the CDC.