The World Health Organisation (WHO) today declared a global emergency over the deadly coronavirus spreading from China, as incidents of human-to-human transmission occur both within and outside of China.
The UN health agency based in Geneva had initially downplayed the threat posed by the disease, which has now killed 170 people in China, but revised its risk assessment after crisis talks.
Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China and have noted with concern, instances in other countries including the US, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam, where there have also been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems. We must all act together now to limit further spread … We can only stop it together,” he adds.
Tedros nevertheless said travel and trade restrictions with China were unnecessary to stem the spread of the virus, which has spread to some 18 other countries across the globe.
A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.
Beijing has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province. The government is now in the process of building two emergency quarantine hospitals, modeled after the Beijing Xiaotangshan hospital built to accommodate SARS patients in 2003.
Built in a matter of days from prefabricated components, the first, Huoshenshan, is expected to be finished by 3 February, while the second, Leishenshan, should be ready for use by 5 February.. The two hospitals will provide Wuhan with a combined additional 2,600 beds for coronavirus patients.
The government on Thursday reported 38 new deaths in the preceding 24 hours, the highest one-day total since the virus was detected late last year with all but one of the new deaths were in Hubei. China’s patient count has reached 7,830 and covers every single province of the country. Another 81,000 people are under observation for possible infection.
Stock markets around the world tumbled again on Thursday on fears that trouble in the ‘world’s factory’ would upset global supply chains and hurt profits.
Toyota, IKEA, Starbucks, Tesla, Volkswagen, Ford, McDonald’s and tech giant Foxconn were among the global corporations temporarily freezing production or closing large numbers of outlets in China.