2019 nCoV: Spread of novel coronavirus is a PHEIC, WHO says

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Decision moved by concerns about potential spread to countries with weaker health systems, Tedros says

The epidemic in China of a novel coronavirus — 2019-nCoV — and its continued spread to a growing number of countries around the world, is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (a PHEIC), World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced today.

The announcement, following the second meeting of an emergency committee of experts first convened on Jan. 22, was “nearly unanimous,” Professor Didier Houssin, the committee’s chair said.

While Prof. Houssin listed the increasing number of cases worldwide, the growing number of cases in China, and “questionable measures,” — including travel restrictions — taken by “some countries” as factors in the decision, Dr. Tedros emphasized concerns of the impacts the arrival of the coronavirus would have on countries lacking resources to swiftly detect and contain it.

Dr. Tedros, who with WHO emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan returned from a visit to China Wednesday, reiterated, as both did in an evening news conference in Geneva that evening, that Chinese officials response to the outbreak has been “unprecedented” in its speed, scope and prioritization of public health.

The declaration of a PHEIC, he said, “is not a vote of no confidence in China.” Today’s number of 98 cases outside of China (30 more than the day before) is not higher, Dr. Tedros said, because of China’s speed and openness in addressing and announcing the spread of the disease.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, however, along with WHO, have continued to issue calls for transparency and cooperation from China this week, while data reported in The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine have indicated that the signs that a novel coronavirus was spreading, including in people outside of Wuhan were apparent before the first reports on the outbreak from China.

  • The declaration of the PHEIC came with seven recommendations announced by Dr. Tedros:
  • That no national governments refrain from imposing restrictions on trade or travel;
  • That the international community commits to ensuring support for countries with weaker health systems;
  • That research toward rapid diagnostics, treatment and vaccines against the coronavirus be accelerated;
  • That countries work together to combat rumors and inaccurate information about the spread of the coronavirus;
  • That countries review their preparedness and identify gaps in their response capacities;
  • That countries and agencies share data, knowledge and experiences
  • That all countries work together “in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation.”

“This is the time for facts, not fear,” he said, summing up the committee’s recommendations, “for science not rumors, for solidarity, not stigma.”

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