Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new coronavirus from Wuhan has risen over 400 in China Chinese health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

VIDEO: WHO says China virus not global health emergency

The decision came after Chinese authorities moved to lock down three cities on Thursday

A viral illness in China that has sickened hundreds of people and prompted Chinese authorities to effectively shut down three cities is not yet a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

The U.N. health agency issued its evaluation after Chinese authorities moved to lock down three cities indefinitely earlier in the day and cancelled major public celebrations and gatherings in Beijing during the Lunar New Year holiday period to try to contain the evolving outbreak.

During a news conference in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while the epidemic was clearly a crisis in China, “it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”

The steps taken by China to shut down cities with more than 18 million people are unprecedented in public health, as countries typically shy away from such extreme measures. Tedros said that while WHO’s role is to provide science-based recommendations, “at the end of the day, a sovereign country has the autonomy to do what it thinks is right.”

The decision not to declare a global emergency “should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Tedros said. “WHO is following this outbreak every minute of every day.”

ALSO READ: One person in Vancouver being monitored for coronavirus, feds say

The United Nations health agency made the decision after independent experts spent two days assessing information about the spread of the newly identified coronavirus.

“It’s too early to consider this as a public health emergency of international concern,” Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency advisory committee, said, noting that the panel “was very divided, almost 50-50.”

WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a co-ordinated international response. Previous global emergencies have been declared for the emergence of Zika virus in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic, and polio.

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous foreign governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. Deciding whether an outbreak amounts to an international crisis therefore can also be politically fraught.

In 2014, WHO resisted declaring the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa to be a global emergency because it feared the announcement would anger Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Hundreds of people infected with the new virus have fallen ill in China, and 17 have died. The first cases appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China.

Other cases have been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong reported their first cases Thursday.

While airports in many major cities around the world have instituted health screenings for arriving passengers from China, Tedros said that “for the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade.”

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

ChinaCoronavirusHealthtravel

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Grinch steals Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society’s safe

Theft happened early Tuesday morning at organization’s Albion fairground office

Fire at supportive housing on Royal Crescent

Firefighters find chair on fire, building being evacuated

Canada West Golf Championships cancelled due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

UBC, UBC-O, UFV and UVic athletes will not hit the links this year, Kelowna was set to host

Meadus chosen to run for BC Liberals in Maple Ridge-Mission

Party chose not to have nomination meeting, due to snap election call

CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Sept. 20

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Dozens of Canadian venues to light up red in support of entertainment workers

Local facilities among dozens across Canada to participate in Light Up Live

Vancouver Island sailor stranded in U.S. hospital after suffering massive stroke at sea

Oak Bay man was attempting to circumnavigate the world solo

Majority needed to pass COVID-19 budget, B.C. premier says

John Horgan pushes urgent care centres in first campaign stop

Most Read