WHO declares public health emergency

April 23, 2020

The World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency of international concern regarding the global outbreak of Novel Coronavirus, January 30.

The outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, has now spread to over 65,000 people, with cases in approximately 25 countries outside of China, 15 of those in the United States. At least 1,400 people have died, most of whom were in China. There have also been several cases of human-to-human transmission of the Coronavirus, which is different than originally suspected. They initially thought transmission would be from animal to human only, which is not the case.

However, the general director of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reassures the public that this declaration of emergency is out of extreme caution and urges people to use facts and reason. He also articulated his respect for China’s swift and thorough response to the outbreak.

“Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak, and which has been met by an unprecedented response,” said Ghebreyesus. “As I have said repeatedly since my return from Beijing, the Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe social and economic impacts those measures are having on the Chinese people. We would have seen many more cases outside China by now, and probably deaths, if it were not for the government’s efforts and progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world. The speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO, and the world, are very impressive and beyond words. So is China’s commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries. In many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.”

“Although these numbers are relatively small compared to the number of cases in China, we must all act together now to limit further spread,” he said. “The vast majority of cases outside of China have a travel history to Wuhan or contact with someone who has a travel history to Wuhan. We don’t know what sort of damage this virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility.

For all of these reasons, I’m declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of Novel Coronavirus. The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health system and which are ill-prepared to deal with it. Let me be clear. This declaration is not a ‘vote of no confidence’ in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have a confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

“The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. We’re all in this together and we can only stop it together. This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumors,” Ghebreyesus said.

WHO Global Response:
“There is no reason for measures that will unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. So WHO doesn’t recommend limiting trade and movement,” said Ghebreyesus.
• We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence based and consistent
• WHO stands ready to provide advice to any countries considering which measures to take.
• We must support countries with weaker health systems.
• Accelerate the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
• Combat spread of rumors and misinformation.
• Review preparedness plans, identify gaps and evaluate the resources needed to identify, isolate and care for cases and prevent transmission.
• Share data knowledge and experience with WHO and the world.

WHO recommendations to reduce exposure and transmission:
• Washing hands frequently, using alcohol based hand sanitizer or soap and water. Cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing, then immediately dispose of tissue.
• Avoid contact with anyone who has a fever or cough. Seek medical assistance if experiencing fever, cough, difficulty breathing.
• Share travel history with medical professionals.
• Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products.
• When visiting live markets, in areas currently experiencing cases of Novel Coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals.

Facts: Novel Coronavirus, prevention and treatment:
• This is virus, and antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria. Due to bacterial co-infections doctors may prescribe them.
• Those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve symptoms.
• Those with severe symptoms should see doctors.
• People of all ages can be infected by the new virus. Older people, children, and those with pre-existing conditions appear to be more vulnerable.
• Although there are no reported cases of pets such as dogs or cats infected with Novel Coronavirus, it is still recommended to wash hands after contact with pets to prevent other bacterial infections.