WHO Tedros

WHO Declares Coronavirus Global Emergency

The World Health Organisation (WHO) thursday declared a global emergency on the outbreak of the New Coronavirus, whose eruption first started in the Chinese town of Wuhan.

The global health coordinator said the disease now represents a risk beyond China, where the first outbreak occurred last month. Thursday’s declaration represented a U-turn in WHO’s pronouncement last week to delay such a declaration, a report by the New York Times said.

According to WHO, since its pronouncement last week, thousands of new cases in China and clear human-to-human transmission in several other countries, including the United States, warranted a reconsideration of that decision by the agency’s expert committee.

The WHO’s declaration — officially called a “public health emergency of international concern” — does not have the force of law. But it serves notice to all United Nations member-states that the world’s top health advisory body thinks the situation is grave.
Governments then make their own decisions about whether to close their borders, cancel flights, screen people arriving at airports or take other protective measures.

Declaring emergencies also adds urgency to any WHO appeal for money. Thus far, that is hardly relevant: The countries most affected — China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, the United States and Vietnam — can afford to wage their own battles against the virus.

By contrast, the Democratic Republic of Congo has needed large infusions of cash and medical expertise to fight an ongoing Ebola outbreak, and the need for money was one of the reasons the WHO declared an intrusernational emergency in that case, even though Ebola has not spread outside of Congo except in a few patients who briefly entered Uganda.

Last week, the committee was divided. Declaring emergencies is always a hard decision, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, because closed borders and cancelled flights lead to personal hardships for millions of healthy people near the epicentre and can cause massive economic disruption.

In the worst cases, supplies of food and medicine can run short and panic can spread, threatening to do more damage than the disease does.

Nigeria has also stepped up efforts to prevent the spread of Coronavirus to the country just as Nigerians on Wednesday took to the social media, calling on the federal government to tighten security at airports as over 300,000 Chinese are bound to arrive the country from China this week.

The House of Representatives has also requested the Ministry of Health, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the Quarantine Services, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other agencies to set up screening centres at the point of entry into the country.

Nigerians, who took to the Twitter to warn the Nigerian government over the planned return of Chinese residents in Nigeria into the country from holiday, called for heightened surveillance and checks at the airport to prevent them from importing the virus into the country.

Minister of Health, Dr. Osage Ehanire, while briefing State House reporters on Wednesday after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja, said the federal government was compelled to issue the travel advisory to Nigerians and foreigners from affected countries in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus to the country.

China has also effectively isolated Hubei Province, stranding more than 30 million people, at the height of the New Year holidays — an act tantamount to quarantining the Midwest at Christmastime.

China said on thursday that another 38 people had died from the disease, bringing the total to 170. Nearly 8,000 cases have been reported worldwide, almost all of them in mainland China.

Yesterday, Russia closed its 2,600-mile border with China and stopped all trains except for one between Moscow and Beijing. Within China, some medical experts have questioned their country’s response, arguing that local officials could have put in place stricter travel restrictions before the virus spilled beyond the central city of Wuhan. The country has now confirmed cases in every province and region.

The WHO has made such declarations just five times since its power to do so was established in 2005: for the pandemic influenza in 2009, a polio resurgence in 2014, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that same year, the Zika virus outbreak in 2016 and an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year.


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