The outbreak of a new deadly coronavirus in China is not yet a global health emergency, said director-general of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. It was, however, an emergency in China, he added.
Ghebreyesus was speaking after WHO’s emergency committee met for a second day on Thursday to debate the epidemic but were divided over whether or not to declare it an emergency.
Prof Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency committee, said it was “too early” to consider it a “public health emergency of international concern” which would have designated the epidemic a serious global public health event.
The international organisation said they could reconvene the committee if the situation changes
Travel lockdown in China
China has locked down 13 cities and their 40 million residents in an unprecedented effort to try to contain the deadly new coronavirus that has spread in the Lunar New Year travel rush.
Outbound flights were canceled and normally bustling streets, shops, restaurants and other public spaces in the city were eerily empty.
The city of Wuhan has announced this morning that it will build a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds by February, 3rd, in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the SARS epidemic in 2003.
Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded the city’s train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances.
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, told the AP, speaking about Wuhan, a city at the epicentre of the crisis.
“It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
Similar travel restrictions have applied in locked down cities this Friday.
As a symbol of the concern that has gripped China, the authorities have announced the closure of sections of the famous Great Wall, as well as Disneyland resort site in Shanghai.
At least 830 people have been diagnosed with the virus and 26 people have died, National Health Commission confirmed this morning.
Chinese authorities announced an 18th fatality, the first outside of Hubei province, on Thursday, according to AFP.
Outside of China, there have been cases in the United States, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.
Ghebreyesus said that the measure in Wuhan was “strong” but that China would “minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally”.
“We commend their actions,” he added, stating that the WHO will get more information from their team on the ground.
Global health officials are preparing for it to spread
The virus’ incubation period is between two and 12 days, French Minister of Health Agnès Buzyn said at a press conference. She said that two cases had been investigated in France but that both had come back negative.
Buzyn added that though the risk is “real” in France, it remains “small” given that there has not yet been a case in Europe. They have stepped up efforts to inform the public, adding flyers in international airports on what to do if you suspect you have the virus.
Health officials in Paris and in Lyon will also be able to do a diagnostic test for the virus within hours.
Experts at WHO warned the public not to underestimate the severity of the epidemic, stating that there were many sick people in the hospital in China right now.
The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveller from Wuhan.
Many of those who died were elderly or had other health risks, infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Maria D Van Kerkhove said at a WHO press conference.
“The original source of the outbreak remains unknown and therefore further cases and deaths are expected in Wuhan, and in China. It is possible that further cases will also be detected among travellers from Wuhan to other countries.”
According to the ECDC, China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases linked to a fish and live animal market in the city on December 31, 2019. Ten days later, China confirmed that the coronavirus was the cause.
Three airports in the European Union (EU) have direct flight connections to Wuhan, while there are indirect flight connections to other European hubs.
Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January will cause an increased travel volume to and from China and within China, the EDC said, increasing the likelihood of arrival in the EU of possible cases.