WHO to reconsider declaring global emergency as China virus evacuations begin

Customers queue to buy facial masks to prevent a new coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong
Customers queue to buy facial masks to prevent a new coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, China January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Foreign governments flew their citizens out of the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday. The number of deaths jumped to 133. and the World Health Organization voiced “grave concern” about person-to-person spread in three other countries.

WHO’s Emergency Committee would reconvene behind closed doors on Thursday to decide whether the rapid spread of the new virus from China now constitutes a global emergency.

“In the last few days the progress of the virus especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan.

“Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.”

There have been 6,065 cases of the flu-like virus in 15 countries worldwide – all but around 70 in China – according to the latest WHO figures.

All the deaths so far have been in China, where the National Health Commission said there had been 132 fatalities as of end-Tuesday. Another death was reported in Sichuan province on Wednesday. 

The situation remained “grim and complex”, said Chinese President Xi Jinping, who on Tuesday had vowed to defeat the “devil” virus.

Trump said he had spoken to Xi and his administration was working closely with China on containing the outbreak.

Some major airlines suspended flights to China, and a senior economist predicted a major impact on growth.

The WHO’s panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency, but will re-evaluate the situation on Thursday.

Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme said, “We are at an important juncture in this event. We believe these chains of transmission can still be interrupted.”

Ryan also praised China’s response, saying: “They are taking extraordinary measures in the face of what is an extraordinary challenge.”