Wuhan virus: WHO commends China measures to limit virus spread, delays declaring it a global emergency

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China cut off all urban transport networks in and out of Wuhan as alarm mounts over the coronavirus - a new flu-like virus spreading in and beyond China. The World Health Organization will decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference in Geneva on Jan 22, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (REUTERS) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general said on Wednesday (Jan 22) that measures being taken in the Chinese city of Wuhan to close down transport to limit spread of the new coronavirus showed commitment to minimising risks locally and abroad.

"What they are doing is a very, very strong measure and with full commitment. So based on the situation they are taking, the action they deem is appropriate, is very important," said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"We stressed to them that by having a strong action, not only they will control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally. So they recognise that," he said.

WHO officials said that they have not seen third- or fourth-generation transmission of the virus in China or secondary level spread in countries where it has spread.

The WHO said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak. If it does so, it will be only the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade.

Mr Ghebreyesus said he needs to consider all of the evidence in order to decide if the Wuhan coronavirus is an international health emergency.

In a tweet, he said he asked the Emergency Committee to meet again on Thursday after a day of discussions regarding the virus.

"The decision is one I take extremely seriously and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence," Mr Ghebreyesus said.

"This is an evolving and complex situation," he added.

"Our team in China is working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak."

He was speaking after the WHO held a day-long meeting of an independent panel of experts in Geneva on Wednesday.

Deaths from China's new coronavirus virus rose to 17 on Wednesday, with more than 540 cases confirmed, increasing fears of contagion from an infection suspected to originate from illegally traded wildlife.

The WHO's head of emergencies programme, Mr Mike Ryan, said the priority now was to find the roots of how the virus is passing between people.

"We are in agreement with Chinese authorities who have been clear and transparent that there is evidence of human-to-human transmission," he said.

"The primary issue is to limit (that) human-to-human transmission."

The previously unknown coronavirus strain is believed to have emerged from an animal market in the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States.

Wuhan is closing its transport networks and advising citizens not to leave the city, state media reported on Thursday.

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