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

Village of Port Alice presents financial plan for 2020-2024

In this plan, the village reduced their budgeted expenditures for 2020 by 24% from 2019.

Conservation: Two elk unlawfully shot in Northern Vancouver Island

‘The elk also did not have all of the edible portions of meat removed’

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

Port Hardy’s annual summer festival FILOMI Days cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

Port Hardy’s biggest community celebration happens every year from July 17 to 19.

Reflecting on life during a pandemic

‘This is really a once in a lifetime moment where everything has come to a grinding halt’

Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, fear it’s a mistake

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

Thieves steal $5,000 worth of cigarettes and candy from semi trailer in Nanaimo

Culprits hit truckload in shipping company storage yard on Old Victoria Road on Monday

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Sanders drops 2020 bid, leaving Biden as likely nominee

Sanders plans to talk to his supporters later Wednesday

B.C. faith leaders, Horgan discuss need for virtual religious ceremonies

Leaders were open to providing other ways to celebrate during the pandemic

Emergency COVID-19 funding now available for children with special needs

Funding to be used to help support families through uncertain times of pandemic

Revenue dip needed to qualify for wage subsidy drops to 15% in March: Trudeau

Wage subsidy would over 75% of each employee’s salary for qualifying businesses

B.C. closes all provincial parks for COVID-19 protection

Easter weekend approaches, camping already closed

Most Read