WHO declares coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency, but still has faith in China

Passengers on a flight from Asia wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus. (Mark Ralston/AFP)
Passengers on a flight from Asia wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus. (Mark Ralston/AFP)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency of international concern.

In a press briefing following a meeting of the WHO's international health regulations emergency committee, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, its director-general, said the declaration was not a lack of faith in China.

"Let me be clear: This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, the WHO continues to have confidence in China's capacity to control the outbreak," Ghebreyesus added.

"The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries," he said.

In total, 7 834 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed since its discovery, with 7 736 of these cases being in China.

Ghebreyesus said 170 people have died from the outbreak, all of them in China.

"As you know, I was in China just a few days ago, where I met with President Xi Jinping. I left in absolutely no doubt about China's commitment to transparency, and to protecting the world's people," he added.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The WHO expressed concern the virus could potentially spread to countries with weaker health systems.

"We don't know what sort of damage this [corona] virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility."

The WHO's international health regulations emergency committee has unveiled recommendations to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Part of these recommendations, Ghebreyesus said, was there was no reason to put measures in place that unnecessarily interfered with international travel or trade.

"The WHO doesn't recommend limiting trade and movement," he added.

The committee also resolved to support countries with weaker health systems and accelerate the development of vaccines, combat the spread of rumours and false information, review preparedness plans and identify gaps as well identify resources needed to isolate and care for cases and share knowledge and experience with the world.

READ | Cape Town teacher living in 'eerie' Wuhan: 'Some expats refuse to go out at all'

It called on countries to work together.

"The only way to defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and co-operation, we're all in this together," Ghebreyesus said.

"This is the time for facts, not fear. This is a time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity not stigma," he added.

The South African Department of Health will hold a briefing on Friday on the outbreak.

On Wednesday, it said that there have been no reported or suspected cases of the virus in South Africa. It also announced that response teams to the coronavirus outbreak have been activated in South Africa's nine provinces while a specialised team monitors the spread of the virus.

At the time, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said South Africa was adequately prepared for active surveillance, early detection, isolation, case management, contact tracing and prevention of the infection.

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