Coronavirus testing kits distributed globally

In the wake of the discovery that the novel coronavirus can be spread through the air, the World Health Organisation has begun mass distribution of testing kits to hospitals around the world.

This week, China confirmed the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, has shown the ability to transmit through the air, though most infections so far have happened between people in close contact.

W.H.O. Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that cases popping up with no travel history to China “could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” and called on the world to help prevent that from happening.

In a media briefing on Monday local time, he said the W.H.O. has contacted 168 laboratories with technology capable of rapidly diagnosing cases of the virus, and sent testing kits to 14 countries in Africa.

Another 150,000 tests are being prepared in Berlin, Dr. Ghebreyesus said, and will go to 80 more laboratories around the world.

“Without vital diagnostic capacity, countries are in the dark as to how far and wide the virus has spread – and who has coronavirus or another disease with similar symptoms.

“W.H.O. will continue working with all countries to prevent and detect rapidly new cases of coronavirus, and to save lives.”

Recently detected cases in France and the United Kingdom had no travel history to China, meaning they caught the virus either in their own country or somewhere else. Majority of cases worldwide have originated in China.

To date, there have been 1016 deaths in China, and 42,638 cases, nearly 3000 more than the day before. Globally, there are around 320 cases across 24 countries with one death.

“The overall pattern has not changed. 99 per cent of reported cases are in China, and most cases are mild. About 2 per cent of cases are fatal – which of course is still too many,” Dr. Ghereyesus said.

Director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness of the W.H.O., Dr Sylvie Briand said around 15 per cent of cases are severe enough to require hospitalisation, often as a complication of pneumonia. 

Around three to five per cent of people have required intensive care, and people most likely to actually die from the disease have had underlying poor health conditions, she said.

“The range of hospitalisation may vary a lot depending on the status of the patient, their age and their underlying conditions.” 

This week, the agency is convening a research meeting in Geneva to gather medical experts and coordinate the international response from the science community.

The participants will use research from previous epidemics (SARS and MERS) to figure out what is known, unknown and what scientists need to prioritise.

Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the W.H.O. Health Emergencies Programme said many of the scientists convening know each other and have worked together before, saying the meeting is not “a voyage into the dark.

Many doctors and scientists on the frontlines of the epidemic are going to be present virtually, to avoid disrupting the actual response on the ground, he added.

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