WHO to determine whether outbreak of China is emergency

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WASHINGTON: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called a meeting of its emergency committee on Thursday to determine whether the outbreak of the novel coronavirus constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

“Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus while addressing an online news conference from Geneva. “We are monitoring the situation every moment of every day,” he added.

The emergency committee will also make recommendations on how to manage the crisis.

Because of the seriousness of the situation, arrangements were made for journalists to participate in the press conference from various world capitals.

The WHO committee met for two days last week and decided that while the virus was a serious concern in China, it was not yet an international emergency. The vote was closely split at that time. Thursday’s meeting will determine whether the virus is now an emergency.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases unit, advised all nations to avoid panic and focus on containing the disease.

“Our guidance for all countries is quickly identify cases, isolate patients and provide care,” she said. “Also, avoid human to human contacts, including with family members.”

She also advised governments, agencies and the media to “communicate risks responsibly and avoid misinformation”.

Asked if the virus was airborne, Dr Kerkhove said it’s being transmitted through respiratory routes and direct physical contacts and was spreading through droplets.

Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of health emergencies program, said the rapid acceleration of this virus was a cause of concern but they were still not sure how the amplifiers worked.

“We use the knowledge we have and identify the strategy to stop the virus. We cannot choose to stay back and not act.”

Stressing the need for a “huge collaboration” between the public and private sectors for finding a cure, he said the WHO was working with China and other nations to determine what to do next.

Dr Ryan also stressed the need for nations to align the measures they were taking to contain the virus, adding: “194 countries implementing individual measures is a potential for disaster, economically, socially and politically.”

Dr Tedros said the international community had enough financial resources and the political will to deal with the situation.

“We have agreed with China for taking serious and strong intervention at the epicenter because it’s easier to manage. But if you have several epicenters, it’s difficult,” he said.

On Tuesday, Dr Tedros and his team met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and they shared the latest information on the outbreak and reiterated their commitment to bring it under control.

China’s National Health Commission assured the WHO team that they had strong public health capacities and resources to respond and manage this respiratory disease outbreak.

The discussions focused on continued collaboration on containment measures in Wuhan province, where the outbreak started, and in other cities and provinces.

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