The World Health Organisation, a specialized UN agency for international public health, has declared a global health emergency as the coronavirus outbreak spread well beyond China, and called on all countries to take urgent measures to contain the respiratory disease.
In Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said that China will continue to work with the UN health agency and other countries to safeguard regional and global public health security. Since the pneumonia outbreak caused by the coronavirus, China has taken comprehensive prevention and control measures, she said.
FIELD TRIP TO WUHAN
She pointed out that many of these measures went well beyond the requirements of the International Health Regulations. “We have the confidence and ability to win the battle against the outbreak.” Acting with transparency and in a responsible manner, China had provided timely updates of the outbreak and the genome sequence of the coronavirus, she said.
“Such efforts are fully recognized and highly commended by the WHO and many countries.” Hua Chunying also said that China had stayed in close communication and cooperation with the UN health agency. She confirmed that the WHO experts conducted a field trip to Wuhan, the sprawling capital of central China’s Hubei province.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the declaration of global emergency 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.” He said that the declaration comes now because of fears that coronavirus may reach countries with weak healthcare systems, where it could run amok, potentially infecting millions of people and killing thousands.
The latest WHO figures state there are more than 7,800 confirmed cases globally, with 7,736 confirmed in China, and a further 12,167 suspected cases inside the country where the outbreak began in Wuhan, a city of around 11 million which remains in lockdown. So far, 170 people have died in China, and 1,370 cases there are officially described as severe.
A total of 124 have recovered and been discharged from the hospital. Outside China, there are 82 confirmed cases, in 18 different countries, and only seven had no history of travel in China. “There has been human-to-human transmission in three countries outside China,” according to a statement released by WHO’s Emergency Committee.
“One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.” When the committee met last week, there were divergent views on whether the outbreak which began last month, constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), but the expert body convened by the WHO chief was in agreement.
“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China, but what is happening in other countries,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, praising the extraordinary measures taken there by Chinese authorities. “China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in rapid diagnostic tools,” the committee said.
With concern rising that less developed countries will be more vulnerable, China has agreed to work internationally, with others who need support and the measures China has taken are good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world, the statement said. However, there remain many unknowns concerning the speed and spread of the epidemic, according to the committee.
TRADE AND TRAVEL
“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,” the statement said.
“We must remember that these are people, not numbers. More important than the declaration of a public health emergency are the committee’s recommendations for preventing the spread and ensuring a measured and evidence-based response,” Tedros Ghebreyesus tweeted following the meeting.
He said that there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. “We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering what measures to take.”
The committee said that evidence has shown that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies may be ineffective and may divert resources from other interventions. It said that restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses and may have negative effects on the economies of affected countries.
Despite encouraging countries not to impose blanket restrictions on trade and travel, in certain specific circumstances, measures that restrict the movement of people may prove temporarily useful, such as in settings with limited response capacities and capabilities, or where there is a high intensity of transmission among vulnerable populations.
The UM agency is calling for greater support for low- and middle-income countries, to support their response to any cases, and allow them access to vaccines and drugs, as well as better surveillance and diagnostic tools. The committee said that all countries are required to share information with WHO as the health emergency is declared officially.
FOREIGNERS IN BEIJING
In a letter to non-Chinese citizens, the Beijing Municipality advised foreigners based in the Chinese capital to actively cooperate with epidemic prevention and control work carried out by it and try to avoid going to crowded places or participating in collective activities.
The municipality also stressed that if it is necessary to go, wear a medical or surgical mask and also asked them to stay at homes and register with the community where they live if they had recently visited or come to Beijing with high-endemic areas.
For the medical treatment in a timely manner as up to now, Beijing had identified 101 hot clinics and 20 designated hospitals for treatment at two levels in the urban area of Beijing. The foreigners had been advised to go to a fever clinic in time if they had symptoms such as fever, cough, chest tightness, and fatigue.
Citizens Service Hotline for information on the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection is available in English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Arabic. It may be mentioned in response to the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection, Beijing has launched a first-level response mechanism for public health emergencies on January 24, and various epidemic prevention and control efforts were being carried out in an orderly manner.