The World Health Organization says it will decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak of a new flu-like virus spreading from China.
If it does, it will be only the sixth international emergency to be declared in the last decade. These include the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo and the Zika virus in the Americas in 2016.
“The decision is one I take extremely seriously,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that he was only prepared to make it with the appropriate amount of consideration and information.
He was speaking after the WHO held a day-long meeting of an independent panel of experts in Geneva on Wednesday.
WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a co-ordinated international response.
Didier Houssin, chair of the emergency committee, was asked what gave the panel pause for making a recommendation.
“It was the question of assessment of severity and transmissibility,” Houssin said. Information provided by Chinese authorities was a “little too imprecise” to make a recommendation about declaring an emergency, he added.
Deaths from China’s new coronavirus virus rose to 17 on Wednesday with more than 540 cases confirmed, increasing fears of contagion.
The coronavirus strain previously unknown to scientists was thought to have emerged from an animal market in the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States.
Wuhan is closing its transport networks and advising citizens not to leave the city, state media reported on Thursday.
Bus, subway, ferry and long-distance passenger transportation networks will be suspended from 10 a.m. local time on Jan. 23, and the airport and train stations will be closed to outgoing passengers, state TV said.
Public health actions do not begin at the declaration of a public health of emergency of international concern. These actions are already well underway – <a href=”https://twitter.com/DrMikeRyan?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@DrMikeRyan</a><br> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/coronavirus?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#coronavirus</a>
The official Xinhua News Agency also asked people not to leave the city without specific reasons.
Tedros commended China’s decision to close transport in Wuhan, saying it helps the country contain the outbreak not only within China but also minimizes the chance of spread elsewhere.
Most of the cases are in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, but dozens of infections have popped up this week around the country as millions travel for the Lunar New Year holiday, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people.