Credit: UN News/ Jing Zhang

WHO head in China to discuss the Coronavirus outbreak with senior Chinese officials

The cases are growing inspite of stringent public health measures put in place, but the world’s public health agency has not yet levelled up an emergency state.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and colleagues were reported of having arrived in Beijing yesterday to discuss the novel coronavirus outbreak with senior Government officials. 

The trip is to try to understand the latest developments and strengthen partnerships in order to boost the overall response against the new respiratory disease, according to the UN News.

Last week, it was the first time that the agency convened its Emergency Committee to assess the situation.

It declared on Thursday that the respiratory disease Novel Coronavirus, was not yet an official international public health emergency, Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), but warned that was an emergency in China.

The WHO Emergency Committee, which advises the head of the agency, however, was divided on whether to declare a PHEIC, after two days of deliberations.

The disease had spread rapidly to several countries including Japan, Singapore and the USA, and Mr. Tedros had said that the outbreak posed a “very high risk” in China, as well as regionally and globally.

On Thursday evening, 584 cases were reported to WHO, including 17 deaths. The vast majority of cases (575) were reported in China.

Cases were also reported in Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United States of America and Vietnam, with further possible cases being investigated in other countries; among them, the United Kingdom.

The WHO chief acknowledged that there were still many unknown factors: “We don’t know the source of this virus. We don’t understand how easily it spreads and we don’t fully understand its clinical features or severity. 

Mr. Tedros said the virus causes severe diseases, and it can kill, but in most cases, it causes milder symptoms.

“We know that there is human-to-human transmission in China, but for now it appears limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients. At this time there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen,” Mr. Tedros had said.

The Committee agreed after the deliberations that it should be reconvened “in a matter of days” to examine the situation further.

The Chinese authorities were encouraged in the statement to provide more information on the ways they are managing the risk of further cases, and to work with the WHO and other partners to better understand the evolution of the outbreak.

All countries, recommended the Committee, should be prepared to contain the virus, through active surveillance, early detection, isolation, case management, and prevention of onward spread of infection, and to share full data with WHO.

According ot WHO’s situation report on Monday, there have been 2,798 confirmed cases of the disease globally, 2,741 of which were in China. 

37 cases have been reported in 11 other countries, 36 of which had travel history to China, and 34 related to travel in Wuhan. 

WHO said in the report that it is continually monitoring developments and on standby to reconvene the Emergency Committee on very short notice as needed. Committee members are regularly informed of developments, it said.