WHO considers announcing international emergency over ‘Wuhan’ virus outbreak

31st Jan 2020
WHO considers announcing international emergency over ‘Wuhan’ virus outbreak

Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. (Credit: EPA/Anadolu Agency)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering declaring a global public health emergency over an outbreak of a mysterious SARS-like coronavirus which started in Wuhan, China. If made, the declaration would call for an urgent call for a coordinated international response similar to the one made for the swine flu and Ebola.

The virus, known as 2019-nCoV, is a new strain of the coronavirus that has not previously been identified in humans. Signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

The WHO has advised people to avoid “unprotected” contact with live animals, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
China’s top leaders have warned lower-level officials not to cover up the spread of a new coronavirus that has now infected nearly 300 people.The warning came as state media said six people had now died from the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia.

 

China’s National Health Commission confirmed on January 20 for the first time that the infection is transmittable from human-to-human. It said two people in Guangdong province had been infected in this way.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said at least 15 medical workers in Wuhan have also been infected with the virus, with one in a critical condition. The workers presumably became infected with the virus due to contact with patients. All of them are being kept in isolation while being treated.

A total of 291 cases have now been reported across major cities in China, including Beijing and Shanghai. However, most patients are in Wuhan, the central city of 11 million at the heart of the outbreak.

The disease was first identified there late last year and the outbreak is believed to be linked to a seafood market that also sells live animals.

A handful of cases have also been identified abroad: two in Thailand, one in Japan, one in South Korea and one in Taiwan. Those infected had recently returned from Wuhan.
Authorities in many places, including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan have stepped up screening of air passengers from Wuhan. US authorities last week announced similar measures at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

In Australia, a man who had travelled to Wuhan has been placed in isolation and is undergoing tests. China is the largest source of tourists to Australia, with more than one million people visiting last year.

This mass movement of people could also mean that authorities will not be able to monitor the further spread of the disease. And experts say there already could be many cases going undetected.

A report by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London suggested there could be more than 1,700 infections. However, Gabriel Leung, the dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, put the figure closer to 1,300.

The outbreak has revived memories of the SARS virus — also a coronavirus originating in China — that killed 774 people in early 2000 across several countries, mostly in Asia.
China initially withheld information about the epidemic from the public. It later vastly under-reported the number of people that had been infected, downplayed the risks and failed to provide timely information that experts say could have saved lives.

Analysis of the genetic code of the new virus shows it is more closely related to the SARS virus than any other human coronavirus. On January 21, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Commission talked of China having learned a “painful lesson” from the SARS epidemic and called for the public to be kept informed.

WHO Coronaviruse Situation Reports

 

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