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Coronavirus: WHO declares international health emergency over 'unprecedented outbreak'

Officials unanimously approve declaration over fears virus could spread to nations with weak healthcare systems

Vincent Wood
Thursday 30 January 2020 20:46 GMT
Coronavirus: WHO declares international health emergency over 'unprecedented outbreak'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a public health emergency of international concern following the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus – describing the event as an “unprecedented outbreak that has been met with an unprecedented response”.

The announcement by the medical arm of the UN frees up additional finances to respond to the healthcare crisis, with officials citing the risk of the virus reaching a country with an underdeveloped healthcare system as the reason for the move.

The body has faced criticism after holding off on the decision to announce an official international crisis – however in a hastily arranged Thursday session of the body’s emergency committee officials were almost unanimously in favour of making the declaration.

The WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who visited China to consider the state’s response to the spread of the disease from the Hubei province while meeting with president , said the nation “must be congratulated”.

“We would have seen many more cases outside China by now - and probably deaths – if it were not for the government’s efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world”.

He added there were currently 98 confirmed cases in 18 countries outside of China, with eight cases of human-to-human spread in four countries – Germany, Vietnam, Japan and the US.

However, despite relatively low numbers worldwide compared to those in China where almost 8,000 people have been infected, he went on to call on countries to “all act together now to limit further spread”.

“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he said. ”Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems”.

He added: “We’re all in this together.”

Shortly after the announcement, the UK’s four chief medical officers upgraded the risk level in Britain from low to moderate and warned that confirmed cases were “likely” to occur.

They said: ”In light of the increasing number of cases in China and using existing and widely tested models, the four UK chief medical officers consider it prudent for our governments to escalate planning and preparation in case of a more widespread outbreak.

“For that reason, we are advising an increase of the UK risk level from low to moderate. This does not mean we think the risk to individuals in the UK has changed at this stage, but that government should plan for all eventualities.

“As we have previously said, it is likely there will be individual cases and we are confident in the ability of the NHS and HSC in Northern Ireland to manage these in a way that protects the public and provides high quality care.”

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