In Brief

Coronavirus declared a global emergency

Declaration allows World Health Organization to persuade nations to work harder

The World Health Organization has declared the new coronavirus to be a global emergency, as the outbreak continues to spread outside China.

“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

At least 213 people have died in China from the coronavirus, with almost 10,000 cases identified across the country.

The WHO said there had been 98 cases in 18 other countries, but no deaths.

The WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern when it feels there is “an extraordinary event which is determined… to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease”.

The Hill says the designation “pushes nations to work together as much as they can to coordinate personnel, funds and other valuable resources” and “helps in persuading residents in infected countries to abide by health and hygiene recommendations”. 

It also allows WHO to put travel advisories in place for cities, regions and countries, such as those used in outbreaks like the 2003 SARS epidemic

The WHO has only made such a declaration on five previous occasions: the Swine flu outbreak in 2009, a polio occurrence 2014, as Zika spread through the Americas in 2016, and two outbreaks of Ebola, in 2014 and 2019.

The BBC’s health and science correspondent James Gallagher said that declaring a global emergency allows the WHO to support lower and middle income countries to strengthen their disease surveillance.

He says that the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa “showed how easily poorer countries can be overwhelmed by such outbreaks,” adding that if the “novel coronavirus” gets a significant foothold in such places then it would be “incredibly difficult to contain”.

Meanwhile, nearly 60 million people have been under partial or full lockdown in Chinese cities for a week. The UK, US, Japan, and several other countries are working to fly their citizens out of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak of the virus.

The US has told its citizens not to travel to China. The State Department issued a level four warning - having previously urged Americans to “reconsider” travel to China - and said any citizens in China “should consider departing using commercial means”.

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