The Emergency Committee (EC) of the World Health Organization (WHO), in two meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, declined to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) even as it is set to reconvene to study the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 in the People’s Republic of China.
This, even as exportations of the newly-found virus have been confirmed in the Republic of Korea, Japan, Thailand and Singapore. The Philippines is still awaiting the results of the samples taken from a five-year old boy who came from Wuhan, China — epicenter of the novel coronavirus 2019 spread — to study in Cebu.
The samples were sent to an Australian laboratory for confirmatory results, related Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The EC meeting was convened by the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) in Geneva, to determine whether the 2019 nCOV consists an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.
There have been increased numbers of reported cases in China, with 557 confirmed at the time of the meetings on Thursday, but the EC’s advice was that the event did not constitute a PHEIC. Officials verified that 177 of these cases were serious.
Committee members, however, agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that it should be reconvened in a matter of days to examine the situation further.
Chinese authorities reported fourth-generation cases in Wuhan and second-generation cases outside Wuhan, as well as some clusters outside Hubei province, and it is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country.
All countries were adviced to be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO.
South Korea on Friday confirmed its second case of the SARS-like virus that has killed at least 25 in China, as concerns mount about a wider outbreak.
Several nations, including the United States, have stepped up checks on airport passengers to detect the coronavirus.
China has sealed off millions more people near the epicenter of the outbreak on Friday, shutting down public transport in nine cities in an unprecedented quarantine effort as the death toll officially climbed to 26.
While the WHO held off on declaring a global emergency despite confirmed cases in half a dozen other countries, China expanded a lockdown now covering some 32 million people and cancelled some Lunar New Year celebrations to prevent the disease spreading further.
The virus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan has now infected 830 people, the national health commission said, more than the initial report shared to the WHO.
The new virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Wuhan, a major industrial and transport hub of 11 million people in the center of the country, has been rendered a ghost town by China’s imposition of an unprecedented transport quarantine around it and nearby cities.
China has begun its Lunar New Year holiday, typically marked by family gatherings and public events, but the streets of Wuhan were deserted and stores shuttered.
Even the police presence, usually prominent in China, was hardly detectable.
Beijing has cancelled massive gatherings that usually attract throngs at temples during the New Year holiday, while the historic Forbidden City will close from Saturday.
The respiratory virus emerged from a seafood and animal market in Wuhan in late December. It has spread to several other countries including the United States.
The Commission said that of the 830 cases in China so far, 177 are in serious condition. Authorities were also examining 1,072 suspected cases.
“This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency,” the WHO chief told reporters.
He hailed China’s preventive measures but expressed hope that they would be “short in their duration.”
Beijing has been praised for its response, in contrast to SARS, when it took months to report the disease and initially denied WHO experts any access.
China also on Friday confirmed the second virus death outside the Wuhan epicentre, saying a patient died in Heilongjiang province, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) northeast of Wuhan. Official report said 26 have died of nCOV-related diseases.
Authorities have said most fatalities were aged between 48 and 89 and already suffered from pre-existing health conditions.
Jingzhou, located in Hubei province where the virus first emerged, was the ninth city to be locked down as all rail services leaving the city would close from 0400 GMT, while public buses, passenger transport, tourism buses, ferries and other boats will temporarily stop operations as well. With AFP