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Coronavirus Now a Global Health Emergency, World Health Organization Declares

January 31, 2020by Nelson Oliveira, New York Daily News (TNS)
Coronavirus Now a Global Health Emergency, World Health Organization Declares

NEW YORK — The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency Thursday after the newly discovered infection sickened thousands of Chinese people in a week and continued to spread worldwide.

The rarely used declaration, which triggers a coordinated international response and helps free up money for lower-income nations, came hours after the U.S. confirmed its first person-to-person transmission. The patient is married to a Chicago woman who last week became the second person to contract the pneumonia-like virus in the U.S.

The United Nations agency first considered declaring an emergency last Thursday, when the number of cases was slightly more than 800. Since then, China has reported more than 7,800 cases and 170 deaths.

The respiratory illness has now spread to 18 other countries, including Italy’s first two cases on Thursday, raising fears of a global epidemic similar to SARS, another type of coronavirus that originated in China and killed more than 800 people in the early 2000s.

“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 director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said Thursday at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland. “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.”

As of Thursday, only 1% of cases have been reported outside China and most of those patients had been to Wuhan, a Chinese city of 11 million people where the virus is believed to have originated last month, the health agency said. Officials believe the virus came from a meat and seafood market in Wuhan, which has been shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.

Five of the six U.S. patients diagnosed with the disease so far had been to that city, including the wife of the Chicago man who’s now the first case of person-to-person transmission in the U.S.

“We understand that this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, we still believe the immediate risk to the American public is low,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

The announcement followed the arrival of nearly 200 Americans who had been evacuated from Wuhan. The passengers are expected to be quarantined at a California military base for about two weeks.

U.S. officials have urged Americans to avoid traveling to Wuhan’s Hubei province and exercise extreme caution if traveling to China.

Several other countries, meanwhile, are restricting access to and from mainland China in a drastic attempt to keep the virus away. Russia, for instance, closed its 2,600-border with China as Italy halted all flights to the Asian country.

In China, at least 17 cities are under a temporary shutdown and major tourist sites have been closed in a desperate attempt to contain the outbreak.

WHO’s Ghebreyesus praised China’s massive response to the crisis during Thursday’s news conference.

“So far we have not seen any deaths outside China, for which we must all be grateful,” he said. “Although these numbers are still relatively small compared to the number of cases in China, we must all act together now to limit further spread.”

WHO defines a public health emergency as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a public health risk to the international community and potentially requires a coordinated global response. The designation implies a situation that is “serious, unusual or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border; and may require immediate international action,” according to the organization.

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©2020 New York Daily News

Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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