The coronavirus outbreak, which started in China, has now been officially declared a global public health emergency.
The decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) comes as the number of people who have died from the virus reached 170.
So far, they have all 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 – and every region of the country has been affected
There have also been 98 confirmed infections in 18 other countries, according to the WHO.
They include eight cases of human-to-human transmission in Japan, Germany, Vietnam and the US.
The WHO said the spread of the virus outside China was a key factor for declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
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WHO 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.”
So far there have been no confirmed cases in Britain but the four chief medical officers of the UK have increased the risk level 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 are expected to be quarantined at Arrowe Park Hospital
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 evidence of person-to-person spread in other countries.
The declaration triggers recommendations aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of the virus, while avoiding unnecessary interference with trade and travel.
Image: Passengers wear protective masks as they arrive at Beijing Capital Airport
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” which poses a public health risk through the international spread of disease which could potentially require an international response.
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.
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The virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS – which killed nearly 650 people across China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
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, but there have been more cases overall.
Around 60 million people are under lockdown in China’s Hubei province – of which Wuhan is the capital.
The city’s transport networks – including bus, subway and ferries – have been suspended since 23 January and airport and train stations closed.
Authorities have also imposed lockdown measures on 10 cities, including Huanggang, Ezhou, Chibi and Zhijiang.
A number of foreign governments have begun flying their citizens out of Wuhan and advised against non-essential travel to China.
Source : Sky News