WHO declares global health emergency in fight against coronavirus
China marked its most fatal day yet during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak Thursday as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global health emergency.
Chinese authorities reported more than 40 deaths Thursday, all of them in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak of which Wuhan is the capital, bringing the total death toll to 213, with almost 10,000 cases confirmed worldwide.
As of Thursday night, there were more than 9,600 coronavirus cases confirmed in China, authorities said, an increase of almost 2,000 from the previous day.
That surpasses the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that began in southern China, which infected 8,098 people worldwide, killing 774.
More than 20 countries and territories outside of mainland China have confirmed cases of the virus — spanning Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East — as India, Italy and the Philippines reported their first cases on Thursday.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”
The decision by the WHO has prompted governments to upgrade their own response to the virus, with the US State Department raising its travel advisory for China to it’s highest level: Do not travel.
The WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease,” and “to potentially require a coordinated international response.”
Previous emergencies have included Ebola, Zika and H1N1.
Ghebreyesus, who met this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said the WHO “continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”
“We would have seen many more cases outside China by now — and probably deaths — if it were not for the government’s efforts,” he added.
Much of China goes back to work on Monday, after the Lunar New Year holiday was extended in an attempt to rein in the virus.
The fear now — as tens of millions of people travel across the country and cities return to usual business — is that new self-sustaining epidemic spots will rear up.
Many schools and universities across the country will remain closed for much of next week.
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