World Health Organization declares coronavirus an international concern


Madison Wheeler

World Health Organization officials declare the Coronavirus outbreak an international concern. Photo courtesy of

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus epidemic to be a public health emergency of international concern after a committee met in Geneva, Switzerland.

The coronavirus from Wuhan, China, continues to spread, according to WHO, and reported cases now number more than 2,000.

On Jan. 26, WHO reported that there were 2,014 cases of the virus and 56 deaths globally. Most of the cases have been within China, with only 29 outside of the country.

In December 2019, China first reported cases of a pneumonia-like illness to WHO, which turned out to be caused by a coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that include Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Symptoms of the infection include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The virus is thought to have started in a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China. Since then, the virus has spread to 10 other countries, including the United States, through human-to-human contact.

At five airports in the United States, travelers from Wuhan are being screened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been five reported cases in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington.

Other countries where cases have been reported include France, Australia, Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia.

In a Jan. 23 press briefing, WHO reported that at the time, it was not declaring the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

“The fact that I’m not declaring PHEIC today should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D., director general of WHO.

There is a lot left unknown about the virus, including how it started and how easily it spreads.

WHO lists their risk assessment for the outbreak in China as being very high, although the country has taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus. There have been lockdowns of transportation in some cities since Jan. 22, a complicated undertaking due to the New Year holiday.

Since then, the containment efforts have spread to 17 more cities, totaling more than 50 million people. Mongolia has closed its border with China, and Hong Kong and Malaysia have barred entry to visitors from the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.

The virus has been called 2019-nCOV, for “novel” or “new” coronavirus, although this may change in the future.

The CDC and WHO recommend taking preventative actions such as hand washing and covering mouths when coughing.