UPDATE: WHO says viral illness in China is not yet a global health emergency - InfoNews

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UPDATE: WHO says viral illness in China is not yet a global health emergency

Passengers wearing protective face masks enter the departure hall of a high speed train station in Hong Kong, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. China closed off a city of more than 11 million people Thursday, halting transportation and warning against public gatherings, to try to stop the spread of a deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds and spread to other cities and countries in the Lunar New Year travel rush.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
January 23, 2020 - 11:00 AM

LONDON - A viral illness in China that has sickened hundreds of people is not yet a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

WHO issued its evaluation after Chinese authorities moved to lock down three cities earlier in the day and cancelled major events in the capital, Beijing, during the Lunar New Year holiday period to try to contain the new virus.

During a news conference in Geneva, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while the outbreak clearly rose to an emergency in China, “it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”

The decision “should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO is following this outbreak every minute of every day.”

The United Nations health agency made the decision after independent experts spent two days assessing information about the spread of the newly identified coronavirus.

READ MORE: The Latest on the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China

Wuhan is an important flight hub and it is thought that travelers from the airport could have carried the new strain of Coronavirus prior to the airport's closing January 23;
Wuhan is an important flight hub and it is thought that travelers from the airport could have carried the new strain of Coronavirus prior to the airport's closing January 23;
Image Credit: AP

“It’s too early to consider this as a public health emergency of international concern,” Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency advisory committee, said, noting that the panel “was very divided, almost 50-50.”

WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a co-ordinated international response. Previous global emergencies have been declared for the emergence of Zika virus in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic, and polio.

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous foreign governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. Deciding whether an outbreak amounts to an international crisis therefore can also be politically fraught.

In 2014, WHO resisted declaring the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa to be a global emergency because it feared the announcement would anger Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

During a news conference in Geneva, Houssin suggested that China's view of the outbreak was a factor in Thursday's decision.

“The perception of this declaration by the international community, in the most affected country, by the people struggling with the virus, certainly has to be considered,” he said.

Hundreds of people infected with the new virus have fallen ill in China, and 17 have died. The first cases appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China.

Other cases have been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong reported their first cases Thursday.

While airports in many major cities around the world have instituted health screenings for arriving passengers from China, Tedros said that “for the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade.”

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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