World on high alert as novel coronavirus cases triple 

Worried young woman wearing mask

Does the current outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern?

The World Health Organization has announced that its Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will convene an Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) under the International Health Regulations, to ascertain whether the current outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it.

China’s National Health Commission confirmed the first examples of it spreading from human to human

The Committee will convene on Wednesday 22 January and ITIJ will be reporting on the outcome.

The novel coronavirus, also known as Wuhan coronavirus, refers to a new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City in China. It has so far resulted in more than 200 confirmed human infections in China and exported cases in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

It has been linked to a seafood and animal market, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin. Investigations are underway to unearth more about the virus.

It was initially believed that the virus could not easily be transmitted between humans, but on Monday 21 January, China’s National Health Commission confirmed the first examples of it spreading from human to human, with medical workers among those infected. The virus causes symptoms of viral pneumonia and has caused several deaths, although according to officials, these appear to be in cases where patients had pre-existing, often underlying, health conditions. 

A number of countries in Asia and three US airports have begun screening passengers from central China in an effort to contain the disease.

Experts in the UK told the BBC that it is possible that far more people are infected than is being reported - potentially as many as 1,700.

During the SARS crisis in 2002-03, China was widely criticised for initially covering up the outbreak and, as a result, how the country is responding to the novel coronavirus is under close scrutiny.

With Lunar New Year travel beginning on Friday, there are fears that authorities will not be able to sufficiently monitor further spread of the disease. Authorities have said that they will be screening anyone leaving Wuhan. More on this story as it develops.