The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus epidemic in China now constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the decision after a meeting of its emergency committee, an independent panel of experts, amid mounting evidence of the virus’ spread to some 18 countries.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” Dr Ghebreyesus told reporters on Thursday.
“Our 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.”
Last week, WHO said it was “too early” to declare an international public health emergency but on Thursday said action was needed to help countries to prepare for the possibility of it spreading further.
The new virus has now infected more people in China than fell ill during the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.
The number of cases has jumped to more than 8100 globally, surpassing the 5327 people diagnosed with SARS.
The death toll, which rose to 170 on Thursday morning, is lower than the 348 people who died in China from SARS.
© RAW 2020