The organization held discussions for two days last week on the virus but did not declare a global health emergency at the time. But a number of new patients who did not visit China have been diagnosed in Japan, Germany, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss the outbreak, which is centered in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Chinese regime officials have ordered the lockdown of Wuhan and a number of cities across Hubei in an attempt to quarantine the area, affecting tens of millions of people. Most forms of transportation have been banned.
“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,” Ghebreyesus said Thursday. “I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak,” he remarked.
“The vast majority of cases outside #China have a travel history to Wuhan, or contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan,” he said, adding that there have been no deaths outside of China.
The declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern has only been done five times in the past decade, including outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, the Zika virus outbreak, and the 2009 swine flu outbreak. The coronavirus is in the same family of viruses as SARS or the common cold.
WHO describes the move as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”
On Thursday, Russia ordered the closure of a 2,500-mile border with China in the Far Eastern District. In the United States, federal officials expanded screening for the virus at 20 airports and the State Department and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have called on Americans to avoid “nonessential travel” to China, urging citizens not to go to Hubei Province.
Cases of the virus outside of China have been confirmed by U.S. health authorities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Vietnam.
So far in the United States, five cases have been confirmed, including two in California, one in Washington state, one in Illinois, and one in Arizona, according to the CDC’s latest update. A sixth case in Chicago not included in the CDC’s update was confirmed by the Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday. It is the first case of a person contracting the virus from another person in the United States.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump confirmed he was forming a coronavirus taskforce made up of top health, transportation, and national security officials. The task force will respond to the virus and work to prevent it from spreading in the United States.
Several major airlines confirmed they would suspend some or all flights to China, including United Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, and Lufthansa.
Meanwhile, the United States flew 195 of its citizens back home from Wuhan, and they are currently in isolation at a military base in California. Japan also evacuated its citizens, finding that three tested positive for the virus, said the Japanese government on Thursday, reported AFP. There are now 14 confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan, and two patients showed no symptoms, said officials.