WHO calls emergency meeting as China confirms that virus can pass from person-to-person

Passengers wearing masks are seen at Hongqiao International Airport in Shanghai, China January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

An outbreak of a new coronavirus has spread to more Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and Shanghai, authorities said on Monday, and a fourth case has been reported beyond China’s borders.

China’s National Health Commission confirmed that the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, can pass from person-to-person, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday “an animal source” appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some “limited human-to-human transmission” occurred between close contacts. 

The Geneva-based U.N. agency later convened an emergency committee for Wednesday to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency and what measures should be taken to manage it. 

So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but a panel of independent experts could do so or make other recommendations to limit spread.

China’s state council reiterated the government will step up prevention efforts and find the source of infection and transmission channels as soon as possible, state television said on Monday. 

Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged Monday because of the outbreak.

“Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?,” said one commentator on Chinese social media platform Weibo

The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the government needs to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS. Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumours forced it to reveal the epidemic. 

“Concealment would be a serious blow to the government’s credibility and might trigger greater social panic,” the editorial said.