The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency following the deaths of 170 people in China and the spread of the disease across the globe.
The decision came the third time the WHO met over the outbreak.
What is a global health emergency?
It is officially defined as a formal declaration of “an extraordinary event” that poses a definite public health risk through the international spread of disease which could potentially require an international response.
The WHO says a PHEIC is a public health crisis of potentially global reach and suggests a situation that is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected”, which may call for immediate international action.
Thus, a global health emergency is a call to action and “last resort” measure.
How many global health emergencies have there been?
Since 2009, there have been five; the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the 2014 polio declaration, the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa, the 2015-16 Zika virus epidemic and the Kivu Ebola epidemic as of July 2019.
Any new subtype of human influenza are automatically declared a global health emergency – such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), smallpox and wild type poliomyelitis.
Why has it taken so long for coronavirus to be declared one?
The virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS which killed nearly 650 people across China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Image: A worker in protective suit disinfects the Dongxinzhuang village in Shandong province
But after several talks over the past week to determine the level of global concern, the WHO stopped short of declaring a global health emergency.
Such a declaration could now trigger containment and information-sharing guidelines and may disappoint Beijing, which has expressed confidence in defeating the virus.
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“The fear is that they (the WHO) might raise the alarm bells… so people are taking money off the table,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone.
Declaring coronavirus a global health emergency could also lead to trade and travel restrictions, meaning holidaygoers could have their travel plans affected in some parts of the world.
Image: People in Hong Kong have formed enormous queues for protective masks
Image: Shoppers in Hong Kong wear face masks as the government shut down parts of the border with China
Is this like SARS?
Unlike SARS, which also originated in China, it is believed the new virus can spread during the incubation period of one to 14 days, possibly before an infected person is showing symptoms.
So far, coronavirus does not appear to be as deadly SARS, but there have been more cases overall.
Where has it spread so far?
The vast majority of more than 8,000 cases so far identified have been in China, mostly in and around Wuhan.
Image: Air Asia flight attendants arrived in Kuala Lumpur wearing face masks
Image: People line up outside a drugstore to buy masks in Shanghai
Other countries with confirmed cases include Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the UAE, the US and Vietnam.
The WHO is looking closely at cases of person-to-person transmission outside of Wuhan, which would suggest that the virus has the potential to spread further.
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What are authorities doing?
The Chinese government has put Wuhan into virtual quarantine to try and contain the virus from spreading.
A number of foreign governments have advised against non-essential travel to China and have begun flying their citizens out of Wuhan.
Source : Sky News