SA calls briefing as novel coronavirus officially declared a global health emergency

SA health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, representatives from the WHO and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, will today give an update on the epidemic.
SA health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, representatives from the WHO and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, will today give an update on the epidemic.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

The World Health Organisation has now officially declared the novel coronavirus a global health emergency.

This is an extreme designation — officially known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — and it means that the novel coronavirus is now considered “an extraordinary event that constitutes a public health concern to other states through the international spread of the disease” and will thus require a “co-ordinated international response”.

The department of health in SA also scheduled a press briefing at short notice for 7am on Friday, at which health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, representatives from the WHO and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, will give an update on the epidemic.

The only other situations of PHEIC designation was Ebola last year and in 2014, Zika in 2016, Polio in 2014 and Swine Flu in 2009.

This development means that the WHO director-general will make recommendations on how to control the spread of the virus, and will advise other countries on travel regulations and screenings of passengers at border posts and airports, for example, so that the international response is all on the same path.

The WHO 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 the infection, and to share full data with WHO.”

At the meeting held on Thursday afternoon (evening time in SA) at the organisation’s headquarters in Geneva, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “We don’t know what sort of damage this #2019nCoV virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility. For all of these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019nCoV.”

At the meeting, according to a statement released by WHO, representatives of the ministry of health of the People’s Republic of China reported on the situation and the public health measures being taken.

“There are now 7,711 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1,370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital,” according to the Chinese health ministry.

The WHO provided an overview of the situation in other countries: There are now 82 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only seven had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in three countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.

This was the third meeting of the WHO in a single week to discuss whether novel coronavirus should be declared a PHEIC.

At the two previous meetings, though widely differing views were held, it was felt the criteria had not yet been reached.


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