The World Health Organisation’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, has announced that the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee would reconvene on Thursday to determine the new status of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Ghebreyesus said the committee would be reconvened to advise him on whether the coronavirus outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, or not.
He noted that most confirmed cases were in China but that three countries have recorded person-to-person transmission, outside of China.
If the meeting holds, it would be the third time that the committee will be coming together to assess the level of threat the new disease would be having on global health.
Mr Ghebreyesus, on his Twitter handle @Dr_Tedros on Wednesday, said he has decided to reconvene the committee on the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) on Thursday.
This tweet is coming about 24 hour after his visit to Beijing where he met with the government and health experts battling the scourge in the country.
Mr Ghebreyesus had earlier met with the president of China, Xi Jinping, who had assured that his country would defeat the ‘devil’ (coronavirus), which has killed more than 100 people in the country.
Also, the Director-General was able to assess the situation in China and efforts being made by the country to control the spread of the disease.
He said WHO is monitoring the outbreak “every moment of every day.”
“My respect and appreciation to my colleagues who are showing great commitment. We will have more news following tomorrow’s emergency Committee meeting,” he said.
The Director-General said he saw a need to reconvene the emergency committee as the disease has spread out of China to about 14 other countries.
The disease, which was first detected in Wuhan in December, has spread to almost all the provinces in China.
As at last count, the death toll from the disease in China has risen to 106 and more cases are still being reported.
Currently, millions of people in China have been quarantined as many cities are on lockdown. The rapid spread and lack of adequate information on the pattern of the disease has raised concerns among the public and health workers across the globe.
People are also beginning to clamour for WHO to declare the disease a global threat.
The sporadic spread also made many countries intensify surveillance at their various borders and points of entry, especially airports.
For example, Hong-Kong had to close some of the borders it shares with mainland China as part of the measurement to check the spread of the disease into its cities.
Meanwhile, Mr Ghebreyesus said most of the 6000 new coronavirus cases are in China – “just 1 per cent, or 68 cases have been recorded to date in 15 other countries,” he said.
“But some person-to-person transmission in 3 countries outside of China has been recorded. This potential for further global spread is why I called the EC,” he added.
He said the vast majority of new cases have been recorded in China.
“Most cases reported outside are in people with a travel history from China, or have been in contact with people who have been there. But there are some signs of person-to-person transmission outside China.”
With the reconvene meeting, it is expected that WHO might be making a new pronouncement on the status of the disease.
WHO as at last week had concluded that the outbreak had not attained the status of Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) despite it fast spreading pace.
Though it warned that there is an emergency in China, the committee, after two days deliberations, had agreed to study the pattern of disease and reconvene at short notice if necessary.
However, with the new information on the pattern and transmission of the disease, Mr Ghebreyesus said reconvening the Committee had become necessary.
He said the people who have contracted the new virus are showing “a wide range of symptoms”.
“Of known cases, most people exhibit milder symptoms, but about one in five people have severe illness, including pneumonia and respiratory failure,” he said.
He also apologised for the error made on its daily situation report which had tagged the disease as “moderate risk”, despite many countries reporting cases.
“This was a human error in preparing the report. I have repeatedly stated the high risk of the outbreak,” he explained.
Also, Mr Ghebreyesus in his tweet commended the efforts made by China in controlling the disease.
He said he “held frank talks with President Xi Jinping, who has taken charge of a monumental national response to the coronavirus outbreak.”
“Based on cooperation and solidarity, China has committed to protecting its citizens and all people globally from the outbreak,” he tweeted.
He also welcomed the invitation by China for WHO “to assemble and lead an international team of experts to assess the new coronavirus outbreak & support Chinese counterparts.”
“I appreciate such openness and urge this to continue from China and all other countries,” he said. “I was struck by the determination of Chinese leadership and it’s people to end the new coronavirus outbreak. They are suffering the most. Their lives and economy are bearing the brunt of the outbreak as they make sacrifices to contain it. China needs the world’s solidarity and support.”
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