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Coronavirus a public health emergency; what does WHO declaration mean?

India has reported its first case of coronavirus infection on Thursday when a student of Wuhan University tested positive for the virus after she returned to the country. The WHO has declared it as a global emergency. But what does that mean?

Written by Abantika Ghosh , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: January 31, 2020 1:52:40 pm
WHO, coronavirus, coronavirus global emergency WHO, what is a global emergency, coroanvirus precautions, coronavirus in india, express explained, explained coroanavirus, coronavirus latest updates People scramble to buy face masks in a medical supply store in the Philippines. Reuters/Eloisa Lopez

Late on Thursday night, India time, the second meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General in Geneva under the International Health Regulations to discuss the situation arising out of the novel coronavirus (nCoV 2019) outbreak in different parts of the world, declared that this is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

What does the global emergency declaration mean?

As the statement after the meeting said: “It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoVinfection, and to share full data with WHO. Countries are reminded that they are legally required to share information with WHO under the IHR. Any detection of 2019-nCoV in an animal (including information about the species, diagnostic tests, and relevant epidemiological information) should be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as an emerging disease.”

The committee, however, did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions. India nevertheless has already advised its citizens to refrain from any travel to China, revising it from the earlier position that all non-essential China travel should be avoided.

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How serious is the current situation?

India has reported its first case of nCoV infection on Thursday when a student of Wuhan University tested positive for the virus after she returned to the country. Four hundred Indians are set to be airlifted out of Wuhan later today and are expected to reach India in the wee hours of Saturday. As on January 30, 2020, a total of 7711 confirmed cases have been reported by 31 Chinese provinces, including 1370 serious cases, 170 deaths, 124 discharged and cured cases and 12167 suspected cases.Most of the deaths reported in elderlies with co-morbid conditions. The number of reported confirmed cases abroad are Thailand (14), Singapore (10), Australia (5), USA (5), Japan (8), south Korea (4), Malaysia (7), France (4), Vietnam (2) Canada (2), Nepal (1), Cambodia (1), Sri Lanka (1) Germany (4), UAE (4), Hong Kong (10), Macao (7), Taiwan (8), Finland (1), Angola (1) and India (1), total of 21 countries.

What does PHEIC mean for China?

The advice to the epicentre of the outbreak, from the expert committee admittedly is long the country needs to:

* Implement a comprehensive risk communication strategy to regularly inform the population on the evolution of the outbreak, the prevention and protection measures for the population, and the response measures taken for its containment.

• Enhance public health measures for containment of the current outbreak.

• Ensure the resilience of the health system and protect the health workforce.

• Enhance surveillance and active case finding across China.

• Collaborate with WHO and partners to conduct investigations to understand the epidemiology and the evolution of this outbreak and measures to contain it.

• Share relevant data on human cases.

• Continue to identify the zoonotic source of the outbreak, and particularly the potential for circulation with WHO as soon as it becomes available.

• Conduct exit screening at international airports and ports, with the aim of early detection of symptomatic travelers for further evaluation and treatment, while minimising interference with international traffic.

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