WHO Declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
31 Jan 2020
On what would have been the first day back to work for many in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared that the new Coronavirus (2019 nCov) is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China reported to the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee on the current situation and the public health measures being taken. They reported that there are now:
- 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases in China.
- 1370 are severe and 170 people have died.
- 124 people have recovered and discharged from hospital.
The WHO Secretariat provided an overview of the situation in other countries. There are now:
- 83 cases in 18 countries.
- 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
- There have been no deaths.
At its first meeting, the Committee expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not. At that time, the advice was that the event did not constitute a PHEIC, but the Committee members agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that the Committee should continue its meeting on the next day, when it reached the same conclusion.
The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak.
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. 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. The Emergency Committee will be reconvened within three months or earlier, at the discretion of the Director-General.
Financial Assistance Available for Those in Need
For those in China worried about taking care of their financial responsibilities, help is available. On January 26, the official website of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission released the "Notice on Strengthening Financial Services in the Banking and Insurance Industry and Cooperating with the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia Epidemic of New Coronavirus Infection;" which states that individuals who have temporarily lost income due to the epidemic may qualify for housing mortgage or credit card loan re-structuring or temporary deferrments. Industries affected by the epidemic, such as wholesale and retail, accommodation and catering, logistics and transportation, and cultural tourism, as well as companies that have prospects for development but are temporarily trapped, may also receive support in appropriately lowering loan interest rates, renewing loans, increasing credit loans, and medium- and long-term loans. If you find yourself in need, reach out to your bank.
Good News on the Treatment Front
Some more good news is that researchers have discovered 3 drugs that have a good inhibitory effect on the new coronavirus. On the January 28th, the Hubei Daily reported that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Toxicology and Drugs of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, jointly discovered three pre-existing drugs that have a good inhibitory effect on the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) at the cellular level: Remidivevir or Rendesivir (GS-5734), Chloroquine (Sigma- C6628), Ritonavir. They are now currently undergoing review to gain approval for clinical use.
A bit of perspective
The PHEIC declaration may seem worrying but in fact, it's a positive sign as it will help to encourage increased support for the fight against the virus. The virus is new so is getting a lot of attention, but let's not forget that the flu has existed for years and we're still here. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that from October 1, 2019, through January 18, 2020, there have been roughly:
- 15,000,000 – 21,000,000 flu illnesses;
- 7,000,000 – 10,000,000 flu medical visits;
- 140,000 – 250,000 flu hospitalizations;
- 8,200 – 20,000 flu deaths.
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day. An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44.
There are many dangers in the world but we go on with our lives. Although precautions should absolutely be taken against the new coronavirus, it helps to remember the above numbers when discussing its roughly 8,000 identified cases and less than 200 reported deaths.
The WHO report this morning concluded, "The measures China has taken are good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world."
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