The killer coronavirus outbreak, which started in China, has now been officially declared a global public health emergency.
The decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to say it is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) comes as the number of people who have died from the virus has reached 170.
So far, all the deaths have occurred in China, where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan.
Chinese health authorities also said there were a total of 7,736 confirmed cases in every region of the country.
Image: Passengers wear protective masks as they arrive at Beijing Capital Airport
There have been 98 confirmed infections in 18 other countries, according to the WHO.
And they include eight cases of human-to-human transmission in Japan, Germany, Vietnam and the US.
The WHO cited the spread of the virus outside China as a key factor for the PHEIC declaration.
More from Coronavirus
Its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also praised Beijing’s response to the outbreak.
He said: “The main reason for this decision is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.
“Let me be clear. This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”
He added: “This is the time for facts, not fear. This is time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.”
Coronavirus present in every region of China
So far there have been no confirmed cases in Britain but the four chief medical officers of the UK have increased the risk level of coronavirus from low to moderate.
They said they “do not think the risk to individuals in the UK has changed” but the government should “plan for all eventualities”.
Around 150 Britons who have been stranded in the virus epicentre in Wuhan are expected to be flown to the UK in the next few hours.
Image: Around 150 Britons coming to the UK from China are expected to be in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital for a fortnight
They are expected to be placed in quarantine for a fortnight and monitored at an NHS facility at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.
WHO experts twice last week decided not to declare an emergency while they sought more information from China and awaited evidence of confirmed person-to-person spread of the virus in other countries, so as to meet their criteria for a global emergency.
The new declaration triggers recommendations to all countries aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of disease, while avoiding unnecessary interference with trade and travel.
It covers temporary recommendations for national health authorities worldwide, which include stepping up their monitoring, preparedness and containment measures.
A PHEIC is officially defined as a formal declaration of “an extraordinary event” that poses a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease which could potentially require an international response.
Race to develop coronavirus vaccine
How many global health emergencies have there been?
Since 2009, there have been five global health emergencies; 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.
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.
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Such a declaration could now trigger containment and information-sharing guidelines and may disappoint Beijing, which has expressed confidence in defeating the virus.
“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.
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 almost 8,000 cases so far identified have been in China, mostly in and around Wuhan.
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.
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