WHO declares coronavirus a global emergency

red alert

With at least 98 cases confirmed in 18 other countries, as well as the 213 deaths and some 10,000 cases in China, WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday (30 January). “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.”

Evacuations have begun taking place in Wuhan, with US and Japanese citizens having already been extracted – governments of the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are still arranging flights. Those who have been airlifted out of Wuhan are facing up to two weeks of mandatory or voluntary quarantine – a move which has sparked some negative publicity in Australia, where evacuees were going to be placed in a former detention centre on Christmas Island. Australians in Wuhan maintained that they would rather remain in the city than face two weeks in quarantine on Christmas Island.

Elsewhere, Russia announced that it is closing its border in the Far East and limiting rail services from all of China from 31 Jan, Hong Kong has drastically reduced transport to and from the mainland, and North Korea has declared a state of emergency and is to institute a ‘hygienic and anti-epidemic’ response. In Italy, 6,000 cruise ship passengers were held onboard for many hours after a Chinese passenger displayed symptoms of the virus, but they were eventually allowed to disembark after the tests came back negative. And the US government has now advised against all travel to China, raising its alert to the highest level.

Both China’s Foreign Ministry and WHO have expressed full confidence in China’s ability to overcome the epidemic. “Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese government has been taking the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measure with a high sense of responsibility for people’s health,” said ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying. “Many of these measures go well beyond the requirements of international health regulations. We have full confidence and capability to win this fight against the epidemic.”

One of China’s leading respiratory experts, Zhong Nanshan, said on 28 January that he expected the epidemic to reach its peak in about 10 days, with no large-scale increases.

For now, many people in the region that have been off work for the Lunar New Year holiday – which was extended in an effort to try to contain the epidemic – are due to return to work on Monday.

It is unclear whether any more measures will be taken in China over the next few days, but we can be certain that the country will have suffered great economic loss resulting from the forced business closures and travel cancellations resulting from the outbreak.

In the UK, the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has announced that two people have tested positive for coronavirus. They are members of the same family and are receiving specialist NHS care. "The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread," said Professor Whitty. "We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately,"