W.H.O. delays emergency declaration on new virus

The World Health Organisation’s emergency committee on the novel coronavirus spreading from China has delayed the decision to declare an international public health emergency, and will meet again tomorrow to make a final call.

In a press conference streamed online this afternoon, the Director General of the W.H.O. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he is only prepared to make the emergency call with “appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”

“Our team is on the ground in China as we speak working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak and get more information.

“We will have much more to say tomorrow.” 

A new strain of coronavirus named 2019-nCoV has been spreading since the end of 2019, and has reached at least six countries (including Australia), infected over 500 people and is the cause of at least 17 deaths, according to officials in China.

The Chair of the Emergency Committee, Dr. Didier Houssin and Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme said information is still to scarce, both on the virus itself. 

“There are many unknowns to address in this event, including clinical severity and the true extent and nature of disease transmission,” Mr. Ryan said.

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“Communicating critical risk and event information to all communities is the responsibility of everybody: our member states, the media and the W.H.O.”

He said until a decision is made, member states are prioritising limiting the spread of the disease and isolating cases.

“The priorities right now […] [focus] on the primary issue to limit human to human transmission, to reduce secondary infections […] and prevent further international spread.”

“We need all member states to focus on early identification and isolation of suspected cases and confirmed cases, and we are working closely to equip countries to be able to detect and isolate cases and provide optimised standards of care.”

Samoa’s Ministry of Health has yet to reveal a national plan for combating the disease and preventing its arrival on island. Speaking to the Samoa Observer on Thursday, Deputy Director of Public Health Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen said he is not at liberty to discuss the Ministry’s preparations.

Meanwhile, the epicentre of the virus in Wuhan, China is on lockdown, the city where 10 Samoan scholarship students are currently living and studying. All public servants have been told not to leave and all airports and public transport stopped from 10am on Thursday. 

Dr. Ghebreyesus said China is acting as it believes is appropriate.

“We stressed to them that by taking a strong action they will not only control the outbreak in their own country, but will minimize the chance of this outbreak spreading internationally,” he said.

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