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Coronavirus declared a global emergency by the World Health Organisation

The organisation urged “leaders in all countries to take immediate action”.

Image: Shutterstock/creativeneko

Updated Jan 30th 2020, 7:46 PM

THE WORLD HEALTH Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus a worldwide health emergency.

The WHO met this evening, when it was decided to declare the illness a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

At a press conference announcing the decision, the WHO said that the “global emergency was decided with almost unanimity” because of the number of countries affected, and because “some countries have taken questionable measures when it comes to travel”.

However, authorities said that the alert meant there was no reason to restrict international travel over the virus, and that it did not mean they did not have confidence in Chinese authorities to contain the illness.

“As I have said repeatedly since my return from Beijing, the Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese people,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO said.

The virus has so far killed 170 people in China and spread around the world since emerging in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. China’s National Health Commission said today that 7,711 people had been infected.

There are now 98 cases of the illness in 18 countries outside China, including eight cases of human-to-human transmission in four countries: Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the US. 

The WHO said its greatest concern was the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, which are not prepared to deal with it.

The announcement comes hours after the watchdog’s monitoring board met in Geneva to discuss the outbreak when it also called for urgent global actions to quash the spread of the virus.

In a public statement, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) commended the speed of the responses by impacted countries so far and singled out China for praise for its transparency. 

However, it also said it remained concerned about some countries’ unpreparedness and urged “leaders in all countries to take immediate action to ensure that they have the necessary capacities in place”.

The GPMB made six specific recommendations, including 

  • That countries’ institutions, communities and partners should share all relevant information openly and rapidly.
  • That all countries – even if they haven’t been impacted – should dedicate resources to building preparedness to prevent, detect, inform about and respond to the virus.
  • That the research and development community ‘urgently accelerate the coordinated development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics against the coronavirus’.
  • That all countries should support the WHO in its central role to respond to the outbreak. 
  • That all donors, including governments, the World Bank and Regional Development Banks, should financially support lower resourced countries.
  • That countries, institutions, the media and WHO should regularly and proactively communicate factual information about the outbreak – including how to prepare for and prevent infection – in a transparent, timely, accurate and open manner.

Here, the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday began advising Irish citizens against all non-essential travel to China.

In a briefing to journalists this afternoon, the HSE said there is no confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Ireland.

Advice to members of the public who are experiencing symptoms and who have been to the Wuhan, Hubei province within 14 days, or who have had contact with someone who had the infection, is to contact their GP.

People are advised to do this by phone, rather than attending the GP’s surgery and putting other patients or staff there at risk. 

The HSE said there is a moderate likelihood of further cases in the EU – so far there have been 10, but none of those were in the UK or Ireland. 

The HSE’s High Consequences Infectious Diseases Planning and Coordination Group (HCID) has been putting contingency plans in place since early January. Hospitals have critical care surge plans to deal with increased capacity demand and the National Ambulance Service has triage and treatment protocols in place related to the virus. 

Yesterday Health Minister Simon Harris briefed a cabinet subcommittee on the issue and confirmed that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) had held its first meeting in relation to the outbreak on Monday.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy and Stephen McDermott.

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Daragh Brophy

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