Category Archives: Communicable Diseases

New Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak declared ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ by WHO (30 January 2020)

Background Information:

A new coronavirus (temporarily named 2019-nCoV) was reported from Wuhan, China in December 2019.

In mid-January 2020, cases of the disease were confirmed from a few neighbouring countries. The Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) convened a meeting of the Emergency Committee (under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) on 22 and 23 January 2020. The Committee’s role is to give advice to the Director-General, who makes the final decision on the determination of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The first meeting concluded that the outbreak did not satisfy criteria for declaration of ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ (PHEIC) at that point in time.

A second meeting of the Emergency Committee was convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019 in the People’s Republic of China, with exportations to other countries, on Thursday, 30 January 2020, from 13:30 to 18:35 Geneva time (CEST).

Key Messages:

In China (PRC)

There are now 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases throughout the country (China). Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

In other countries

There are now 83 cases in 18 countries.

Of these, only 7 had no history of travel in China.

There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.

Conclusions of the 2nd meeting of the Emergency Committee:

The Committee acknowledged that there are still many unknowns, cases have now been reported in five WHO regions in one month, and human-to-human transmission has occurred outside Wuhan and outside China. 

The Committee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to 

  • detect disease early,
  • isolate and treat cases,
  • trace contacts, and
  • promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk. 

It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.

The Committee agreed that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and proposed the following advice to be issued as Temporary Recommendations.

The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success.

In line with the need for global solidarity, the Committee felt that a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world that may need additional support for that.

Advice to WHO:

The Committee wished to re-emphasize the importance of studying the possible source, to rule out hidden transmission and to inform risk management measures

The Committee also emphasized the need for enhanced surveillance in regions outside Hubei, including pathogen genomic sequencing, to understand whether local cycles of transmission are occurring.

The WHO should:

  • continue to use its networks of technical experts to assess how best this outbreak can be contained globally.
  • provide intensified support for preparation and response, especially in vulnerable countries and regions.
  • develop measures to ensure rapid development and access to potential vaccines, diagnostics, antiviral medicines and other therapeutics for low- and middle-income countries.
  • continue to provide all necessary technical and operational support to respond to this outbreak, including with its extensive networks of partners and collaborating institutions, to implement a comprehensive risk communication strategy, and to allow for the advancement of research and scientific developments in relation to this novel coronavirus.
  • continue to explore the advisability of creating an intermediate level of alert between the binary possibilities of PHEIC or no PHEIC, in a way that does not require reopening negotiations on the text of the IHR (2005).
  • timely review the situation with transparency and update its evidence-based recommendations.

The Committee does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available. 

The Director-General declared that the outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a PHEIC and accepted the Committee’s advice and issued this advice as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR.

Advice to China (PRC):

Continue to:

  • Implement a comprehensive risk communication strategy to regularly inform the population on the evolution of the outbreak, the prevention and protection measures for the population, and the response measures taken for its containment.
  • Enhance public health measures for containment of the current outbreak.
  • Ensure the resilience of the health system and protect the health workforce.
  • Enhance surveillance and active case finding across China.
  • Collaborate with WHO and partners to conduct investigations to understand the epidemiology and the evolution of this outbreak and measures to contain it.
  • Share relevant data on human cases.
  • Continue to identify the zoonotic source of the outbreak, and particularly the potential for circulation with WHO as soon as it becomes available.
  • Conduct exit screening at international airports and ports, with the aim of early detection of symptomatic travelers for further evaluation and treatment, while minimizing interference with international traffic.

Advice to All Countries:

Further international exportation of cases may appear in any country.

All countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO. Technical advice is available on the WHO website.

Countries are reminded that they are legally required to share information with WHO under the IHR.

Any detection of 2019-nCoV in an animal (including information about the species, diagnostic tests, and relevant epidemiological information) should be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as an emerging disease.

Countries should place particular emphasis on reducing human infection, prevention of secondary transmission and international spread, and contributing to the international response though multi-sectoral communication and collaboration and active participation in increasing knowledge on the virus and the disease, as well as advancing research.

The Committee does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available.  

Countries must inform WHO about any travel measures taken, as required by the IHR. Countries are cautioned against actions that promote stigma or discrimination, in line with the principles of Article 3 of the IHR.

Useful Links:

Link to the WHO statement on the second meeting of the Emergency Committee (IHR) (2005):

https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/30-01-2020-statement-on-the-second-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-outbreak-of-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)

Link to the WHO statement on the first meeting of the Emergency Committee (IHR) (2005):

https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/23-01-2020-statement-on-the-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-(2005)-emergency-committee-regarding-the-outbreak-of-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)

Link to WHO page on the new Coronavirus:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019