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WHO won't declare coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency yet

Last Updated Jan 23, 2020 at 9:14 pm PDT


The World Health Organization says now is not the time to declare the Wuhan coronavirus a global health emergency

WHO has recommended a multidisciplinary mission which will review and support investigations

The Wuhan coronavirus has killed 17 people and infected hundreds of others so far

The World Health Organization says now is not the time to declare a global health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Emergency Committee reviewing the situation was still divided over whether the outbreak was a public heath emergency of international concern after meeting for a second time this week.

He said there is no mistake the outbreak is an emergency in China, however.

So far, close to 600 cases have been reported to the WHO, including 17 deaths. All those killed and the majority of cases are in China, the organization added, with other cases reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the U.S., and Vietnam.

The first case in North America was confirmed in Washington state on Tuesday.

The WHO is pleading with the public to remain calm. Dr. Adhanom said while it’s known the virus can be quite serious — and even result in death — the majority of people who it has been transmitted to have exhibited milder symptoms.

“We know that among those infected, one quarter of patients have experienced severe disease,” he said on Thursday, adding most of those killed by the virus had underlying health conditions, like hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease — conditions that weakened the immune system.

The first cases in the new coronavirus outbreak were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for an investigation.

The WHO said it’s still unclear how likely human-to-human transmission of the pathogen is, despite it being confirmed in China. Dr. Adhanom said it looks like transmission between people is limited to “family groups,” as well as health care workers treating those infected with the virus, but noted it’s still possible it could happen.

Experts have reminded the public about simple things they can do to reduce the risk of infection. They include cleaning hands with soap and water, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when sneezing or coughing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.

The WHO has recommended a multidisciplinary mission which will review and support efforts to investigate sources, transmission, and screening for the Wuhan coronavirus.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that can be much more severe, like SARS or MERS — Middle East respiratory syndrome, which developed from camels.

The SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 killed close to 800 people.

-With files from Kathryn Tindale and The Associated Press