WHO won’t recommend restrictions on travel, trade over new coronavirus
MANILA, Philippines — The World Health Organization (WHO) will not recommend any border restrictions on travel and trade over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV that broke out in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that China has taken measures to contain the spread of the new strain of the virus in its epicenter and in other cities.
“We hope that they will be both effective and short in their duration. For the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade,” he said in a statement Thursday.
However, Ghebreyesus said WHO is recommending exit screening at airports as part of a comprehensive set of containment measures.
He advised all countries should set up measures to detect cases of coronavirus, including at health facilities.
“There are a few simple things we can all do to protect ourselves and each other, like washing hands, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and so on,” he added.
WHO earlier said it is “holding off” on declaring an international public health emergency over the new strain of the virus, which according to international media, has led to the deaths of 26 and infection of 830 in China.
“Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” he said, as he also revealed that the emergency committee was divided over whether or not the outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
But he also admitted that WHO’s risk assessment is that the outbreak is a “very high risk” in China, and a “high risk” regionally and globally.
“I wish to reiterate that the fact I am not declaring a PHEIC today should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious, or that we are not taking it seriously,” said Ghebreyesus.
In his statement on Thursday, he said that 584 cases have now been reported to WHO, including 17 deaths and 575 cases in China. Other cases are reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. He added that WHO is aware of media reports of suspected cases in other countries but these cases are still being investigated.
What WHO knows so far about the virus
While there were a few observations on the effects of the virus, Ghebreyesus said that as of now, WHO knows that it can cause severe disease and that it can kill, although for most people it triggers milder symptoms.
Among those infected, one-quarter of patients have experienced severe disease.
Most of the fatalities had underlying health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease that weakened their immune systems.
Symptoms caused by the virus include fever, headache, cough, colds, and sore throat.
China has reported human-to-human transmission, but for now, it appears that it is limited to family groups and health workers who have attended to infected patients, noted Ghebreyesus.
“At this time, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” he said. “It is likely that we will see more cases in other parts of China and other countries.”
There are still a lot of blind spots, Ghebreyesus noted, including the source of the virus, how easily it spreads, and its full clinical features or severity.
Currently, WHO is working with its partners “night and day” in China and other affected countries, at the regional level, and at its headquarters “to fill the gaps in our knowledge as quickly as possible.”
According to Ghebreyesus, WHO is also working to prevent the human-to-human transmission of the virus, and has provided guidance to all countries for the rapid identification, management, and containment of the virus. He added they are also working to advance the development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
“We are completely committed to ending this outbreak as soon as possible,” the WHO director-general emphasized.
“And I will not hesitate to reconvene the committee at a moment’s notice—anytime. It could be in a day, it could be in a couple, it could be anytime,” he concluded.
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