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WHO may declare global emergency over deadly Chinese virus outbreak

World Health Organization logo (Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised the commitment of authorities in China to “minimize” risks of the spread of the deadly coronavirus, a day ahead of a decision by the UN agency on whether to declare a rare global emergency over the outbreak.

“What they are doing is a very, very strong measure and with full commitment. So based on the situation they are taking the action they deem is appropriate, is very important,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ahanom Ghebreyesus said on January 22.

“We stressed to them that by having a strong action not only they will control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally. So they recognize that,” he said.

Among the measures China has taken was a decision to prevent people from leaving the city of Wuhan, considered the center of the outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people and killed at least 17.

Authorities have said residents will not be able to leave the city of some 11 million people, with outbound flights, trains, buses, and ferries all being halted.

WHO on January 22 said it will decide on January 23 whether to declare a global emergency. If it does, it would be only the sixth international public health emergency called over the past decade.

Previous emergencies have been declared for epidemics such as the Ebola outbreak in Congo and the Zika virus in the Americas in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has shaken global stock markets, raising concerns about the economy. The 2003 SARS crisis caused an estimated $50 billion in losses from reduced travel and spending.

“The decision is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence,” WHO chief Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“This is an evolving and complex situation. Our team in China is working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak.”

Countries around the world have taken precautions to limit the spread of the virus that has already reached Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United States.

President Donald Trump on January 22 said the United States has a plan in place to contain the outbreak, after a first case was confirmed the previous day in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Trump said, “We do have a plan and we think it is going to be handled very well. We’ve already handled it very well. The CDC [Center for Disease Control] is terrific. Very professional.”

The Washington state resident who returned on January 15 from Wuhan was hospitalized near Seattle after seeking medical treatment. Testing from the CDC on January 20 confirmed that he was infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, which can cause pneumonia-like symptoms. He is reported to be in good condition and in isolation at a medical clinic.

Russia on January 21 said it was stepping up checks at borders and airports to prevent the spread of the virus from China, with which it shares a border of more than 4,200 kilometers. Some 1.5 million Chinese tourists visit Russia each year.

Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport told AFP that additional sanitation-control measures would be used to screen passengers on flights from China, with heat scanners used to measure passengers’ body temperature while they are still on the arriving plane.