While the WHO decided to hold off on the declaration last week, the reversed the decision Thursday officially acknowledges the outbreak as a health threat beyond China, where it originated last month. Thousands of new cases have appeared in China in the past week, and the disease has also spread to other countries, including the United States.
The WHO’s official declaration designates the outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern.” While the WHO’s designation doesn’t carry any legal weight, it alerts all United Nations member states that the world’s foremost health advisory body thinks this is a problem worth addressing. How various nations go about doing that is up to individual governments. Ensuing safety measures may include border closure, flight cancelations and airport screenings of arriving travelers.
The countries most affected at present include China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, the United States and Vietnam.
The WHO has declared such a public health emergency five times since the designation was established in 2005. The coronavirus marks the sixth WHO-declared public emergency, following similar designations handed down to a pandemic influenza in 2009, a polio resurgence and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014, the Zika virus outbreak in 2016 and an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019.
On Thursday, China reported that another 38 deaths from the Coronavirus brought the total to 170. Nearly 8,000 cases have been reported worldwide.
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