The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the “unprecedented” outbreak of coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, as officials bid to prevent infections in countries with weak healthcare systems.
Praising China’s response to the outbreak which began in the city of Wuhan, director-general Tedros Adhanom said governments must work together “in a spirit of solidarity” to control the spread of the new pathogen.
“We would have seen many more cases outside China by now – and probably deaths – if it were not for the government’s efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world,” he added, having recently met with Chinese premier Xi Jinping while monitoring the nation’s response.
“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.”
The official designation means more money can be freed up to launch an international effort against the disease, while also offering governments leverage to take more stringent action to avoid its spread. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement the US allowed some embassy officials to leave the country, while Italy banned all flights to and from China.