GP Insights

GP Insights # 239, 1 February 2020

WHO declares Public Health Emergency; China is confident of containing the virus
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?
On January 30, the Emergency Committee of the WHO was convened by its Director-General. According to the WHO statement, “The Director-General declared that the outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) and accepted the Committee’s advice and issued this advice as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR (International Health Regulations)”

As on 31 January 2020, there have been more than 250 cases of confirmed deaths and more than 10,000 cases of infections within China. Outside China, until 31 January, no death has been reported due to the virus. However, there have been cases reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. 

Countries including the US, Britain, Japan, France have evacuated their citizens from Wuhan and are being carefully monitoring them in quarantines in their countries.

What is the background?
According to the WHO report, the committee “at its first meeting, the Committee expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not.” Developments since the first meeting have led to the second meeting, where the WHO declared a public emergency.

The virus has reached over 15 countries globally. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announced that it is scaling up the preparedness to support the outbreak in the region.

The Chinese took up to a week from the first patient sample, to determine a complete vital identification and sequencing if the coronavirus. The identified virus genome sequence has been handed over to Russian counterparts, and according to reports, a Russia-China vaccine is under development.

Countries have also started taking precautions to prevent the spread. The US, Australia, and Singapore have announced denying entry and transit for those who have recently visited China. Airline companies from the US to Europe have stopped flying to China. 

Unfortunately, there have also been attacks/abuses against the people of Chinese origin across the globe, for example, in public transports in France, Australia and Canada.

What does it mean?
The development of the vaccine and its release can be expected in a couple of weeks. However, the fact that it is not ready yet shows the global preparedness to meet such emergencies. There has to be a concerted joint effort to deal with medical emergencies such as this.

The evacuation processes may inversely be the cause for more cases. Evacuations, though justified, do not seem like a practical option as the threat of the spread of the virus is more. 

The biggest challenge is the misinformation about the cause, the nature of the spread and how to prevent the same. The civil society needs better information from their respective governments, and the latter has to find better ways to reach out to the former.

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