Scientists are increasingly concerned about a new virus that has infected thousands of people and can be deadly. The virus is a coronavirus and belongs to the same family as the virus that causes a severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. It causes respiratory illness, can spread from person to person, and emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency. The organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said his main concern was that the outbreak could spread to countries with fragile health systems.
Declaring a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) is WHO’s the highest level of alarm — a step it reserves for events that pose a risk to multiple countries and that require a coordinated international response.
The “whole world needs to be on alert” over the new coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said as it reconsiders whether to declare a global health emergency.
Dr Michael Ryan, executive director at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told a press conference in Geneva that the Chinese government deserves “huge credit” for its response and transparency regarding the “extraordinary challenge”.
He said: “The whole world needs to be on alert now, the whole world needs to take action and be ready for any cases that come, either from the original epicenter or from other epicenters that become established.”
Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the conference: “The continued increase in cases and the evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China are, of course, most deeply concerning.
“Although the numbers outside China are relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.”
He added that China “deserves our gratitude and respect” for its “extraordinary” efforts to prevent the spread of cases outside the country.
It comes as the death toll in China passed 130 and cases of human-to-human transmission were confirmed in at least three other countries.
The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally, including Thailand, France, the US and Australia.
More than 130 people have died in China and close to 6,000 have been infected.
There is no specific cure or vaccine. A number of people have recovered after treatment, however.