WHO Director-General, Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared that the outbreak of the 2019 new Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC ) following the advice of the Emergency Commitee.
The meeting of the Commitee took place in view of significant increases in numbers of cases and additional countries reporting confirmed cases.
Representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China reported on the current situation and the public health measures being taken. There are now 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
The WHO Secretariat provided an overview of the situation in other countries. There are now 83 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only 7 had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.
The Emergency Commitee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk.
The WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available. Despite this, to date 17 air carriers have suspended their flights to China and some car manufacturers have decided to delay the return to work after the Lunar Year celebrations in their chinese factories and offices till end of February.
The WHO recognises that thre’s still no information available on the possible source of contagion (everybody guess that was an animal, but nothing has been confirmed about this till today) and underscores that any detection of 2019-nCoV in an animal (including information about the species, diagnostic tests, and relevant epidemiological information) should be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as an emerging disease.
Neither China nor other country has still managed to develop a vaccine able to avoid the contagion of this virus.
The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak.
Till 24th January China had quarantined five cities so far including: Wuhan -where the first outbreak occured-, Huanggang, Ezhou, Chibi and Zhijiang. These cities have as a whole over 21 million inhabitants. People are advised by the Chinese Government to stay isolated at home and using masks while on the go out of their homes.
The WHO recognises there are still many things to discover on the novel Coronavirus, but it seems that the outbreak began by an animal to person contagion, that this virus is far less contagious than the SARS coronavirus, that the incubation period may last 14 days and that during this incubation period people not showing any simptom can transmit the virus to another person.
The simptoms are more or less the same of those caused by a common flu, but the difference is that this virus is lethal in most cases.
The mortality level is currently around 3%, more than an influenza but much less than the viruses that caused the great pandemics of recent decades, such as Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which had a mortality rate of more than 30%.
It seems that the nCov is contagiated through contact, sweat or corporal fluids, not through the air.
The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success.
Adding to the chinese efforts there will be a Who multidisciplinary technical mission to China, including national and local experts. The mission should review and support efforts to investigate the animal source of the outbreak, the clinical spectrum of the disease and its severity, the extent of human-to-human transmission in the community and in healthcare facilities, and efforts to control the outbreak. This mission will provide first hand information to the international community in order to better understand the virus, fight against contagion and develop a vaccine.
Image over the headline.- People with masks waiting for their flight at the International Airport Shenzhen Bao (China). Image UN/Jing Zhang.