The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency on Thursday, Jan. 30 in light of the Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China to many other parts of the world.
Until very recently, the United Nations health organization had downplayed the seriousness of the threat posed by the Wuhan coronavirus. However, as an increasing number of cases surfaced across the globe, from Germany to the U.S., the WHO was forced to face the reality of the outbreak.
As of Jan 31, 2020, 1:40 pm EST, there are 9,776 confirmed cases worldwide of the Wuhan novel coronavirus, 213 deaths, and 187 recoveries. Follow the outbreak’s development in real-time using our China coronavirus outbreak map.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.
“We must all act together now to limit further spread… We can only stop it together.”
Declaring a global health emergency gives the WHO the power to offer recommendations meant to curtail the spread of disease, such as travel restrictions.
At the moment, the coronavirus outbreak that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan has spread to more than 15 other countries. Although the WHO has not recommended travel and trade restrictions with China, many countries have taken the initiative urging their citizens not to visit China until the situation stabilizes. Some, like Hong Kong, Nepal, and Mongolia, have closed their border entirely to mainland travelers.
In Singapore, all Chinese passport holders not residing in the island state will be barred from entering or transitioning through the republic. Israel barred all flights from China, while Russia said it was closing its far eastern border with China over the outbreak. North Korea has closed its borders entirely to all foreign tourists.
Globally, more than a dozen airlines, including United Airlines, have suspended routes to mainland China.
China itself has quarantined over a dozen cities and barred overseas travel by tour groups. The quarantined area in China covers 50 million people, including several thousand foreigners who are now trapped in Wuhan after it was sealed off last week.
On Wednesday, Japan and the U.S. became the first countries to airlift some of their citizens out of Wuhan. A second American flight is planned in the coming days. Similar operations are planned by the UK, France, Australia, and New Zealand, as soon as they get the okay that their citizens are cleared of any infection.
On the same day that the WHO declared a global health emergency, the outbreak claimed 38 new deaths — the highest one-day death count since the virus was detected in December 2019. All but one death were in the Hubei province of China.
Recent genetic studies suggest that the virus moved from bats to humans in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China. These markets sell food but also living animals alongside other products. Yesterday, Chinese authorities have declared a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals both in markets and online. Scientists at Britain’s Imperial College estimate that each coronavirus patient infects 2.6 people — which would make it about as contagious as the average influenza outbreak.
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- Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus