World Health Organization (WHO) in an emergency press briefing on Thursday (30 Jan), has declared the deadly Wuhan coronavirus as a public health emergency of international concern.

“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems…. This is not a vote of no confidence in China,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.

The UN health agency, however, does not recommend and opposes travel or trade restrictions with China.

When asked by journalists about its recommendation of not restricting travel, Dr Didier Houssin, advisor to the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia due to the Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV, said that countries should act based on science.

Dr Dider explains, “What do you mean by travel restriction. They are, for example, visa refusal, border closure, quartine of travellers who are in good condition. These travel restrictions under public health emergency of international concern… will provide WHO the possibility to question such measures, which already have been taken by some countries. Why did you take this decision? What is the science behind this decision? Could you reconsider this decision? And we suggested to WHO that WHO should inform the world about transparency concerning these measures which should not constitute an example to follow but a decision to reconsider.”

WHO earlier admitted in the footnote of its situational report on Sunday (26 January) that it had “incorrectly summarised the risk for the global level to be moderate” in previous reports on 23, 24 and 25 January. It corrected itself to state that the risk is “very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.”

Reports quoted WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib on Monday (27 January) as saying that it was “an error in the wording.”

When asked about the correction, co-director of the Swiss School of Public Health, Antoine Flahault told APF that it was a “sizeable” mistake. He said, “It’s a mistake. It’s definitely a sizeable one… but I really think it’s a mistake that has now been corrected”.

The Wuhan coronavirus has so far infected over 8100 individuals in China and resulted in at least 170 deaths. Over 100 cases have been reported outside of China.

In Singapore, 13 confirmed cases have been announced by the Ministry of Health or 17 cases if we consider the four cases in Malaysia who crossed over via Singapore customs.

The Singapore government had earlier imposed a travel restriction for people who have been in Hubei over the last 14 days or have passports issued in Hubei from entering or transiting Singapore. This took effect on Wed noon (29 Jan).

Students and teachers returning from China to Singapore will also have to take a compulsory 14-day leave of absence.


[Update]: Statement on the second meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

A second meeting of the Emergency Committee was convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 yesterday (30 Jan) from 1:30pm to 6:35pm Geneva time (CEST).

This second meeting took place in view of significant increases in numbers of cases and additional countries reporting confirmed cases of the virus.

In a statement by the WHO following the meeting, the Committee “acknowledged that there are still many unknowns” with multiple cases being reported in five WHO regions in one month, as well as human-to-human transmission occurring outside of Wuhan and China in general.

However, the Committee “believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk”.

“As the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection,” the Committee reassured.

“The Committee agreed that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and proposed the following advice to be issued as Temporary Recommendations.”

To read more on the proposed advice issued, click here.

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