World Health Organization Declares Coronavirus Outbreak A Public Health Emergency

by Cassandra Stone
Originally Published: 

It’s only the sixth time in the organization’s history that a public health emergency has been declared

The World Health Organization has officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency. Though 99 percent of confirmed cases are in China, at least 98 people have been diagnosed in other 18 other countries, including the United States.

This is only the sixth time in the history of the WHO that a global public health emergency has been declared. The U.S. and other countries are raising travel advisories, warning citizens against traveling to China for any reason.

During a press conference in Geneva, the WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros declared the coronavirus as a public health emergency of international concern. Tedros says the “greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”

So far, the pneumonia-like virus has infected more than 7,736 people and killed at least 170. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually infect animals but can sometimes evolve and spread to humans, which is what’s happening now. Symptoms in humans include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, which can progress to pneumonia.

Earlier this month, the CDC confirmed the first case in the U.S. — a Washington state man who has been quarantined in a hospital outside of Seattle after flying back from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak was first reported. The CDC said the man reached out to local health authorities last week once he started experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms. A Chicago woman who recently returned from China was diagnosed with the infection, marking the second official case in the U.S. There are currently other cases being monitored across 22 states.

During the conference, Dr. Tedros made sure to acknowledge the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the rapidly-spreading virus. “The speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world are very impressive,” he said. “So is China’s commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries.”

There have not been any deaths from the virus outside of China, which also speaks to the country’s healthcare professionals and government working to contain the outbreak. Currently, 7,834 cases have been confirmed, with 7,736 of those cases being isolated to China. 170 people have died from the disease.

By declaring a global public health emergency, it is the hope of the WHO that people will be cognizant of preventing the spread of germs and avoid traveling to China until further notice.

“We don’t know what sort of damage this coronavirus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system,” Dr. Tedros warns. “We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility.”

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