WHO Declares ‘Public Health Emergency’ Over Coronavirus

(The Washington Post) -
Didier Houssin, Chair of the Emergency Committee, speaks next to Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a news conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland January 30, 2020. (Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared a “public health emergency” over an outbreak of coronavirus that has sickened more than 8,100 people and killed over 170. It sets in motion a plan for global coordination to stem the spread of the virus, which originated last month in central China and moved to several countries.

Experts say a vaccine for the virus is still a long way off. Schools in Beijing have closed indefinitely, and foreigners who have been evacuated from Wuhan, China, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak, are starting to arrive in their home countries or at temporary screening sites.

Earlier Thursday, the United States confirmed a sixth U.S. case of the coronavirus, marking the first time the virus has spread from person to person in the United States.

Funeral workers disinfect themselves after handling a virus victim in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)

Chinese officials added more than 1,500 new cases of the coronavirus as countries stepped up their efforts to evacuate their citizens trapped in Wuhan.

About 50 million people in Hubei province have been restricted to their region as authorities try to stem the spread of the virus. Japan has sent a second flight to Wuhan, and a third is planned.

With experts saying a vaccine is not imminent, more international cases of the illness appeared Thursday. Australia, Vietnam and South Korea all announced new coronavirus infections, while India and the Philippines had their first ones.

The sixth U.S. patient is a Chicago resident who was infected after being in close contact with his wife, who had traveled to Wuhan. The Chicago woman was the second confirmed case in the United States. She is doing well, and he is in stable condition; both will remain in a hospital to keep them isolated.

The number of countries with human to human transmission of coronavirus now numbers five: The United States, Germany, Japan, Vietnam and China, which includes the self-governing island of Taiwan.

Illinois has 21 people it is monitoring for possible infection.

The U.S. government is arranging more flights to evacuate Americans trapped in the Chinese city at the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The extra flights would be laid on beginning on or about Feb. 3 and would have capacity “on a reimbursable basis” for private citizens wishing to leave Wuhan, the State Department said in a message to U.S. citizens in China on Thursday.

Those traveling on the flights would be subject to screening, health observations and monitoring, the department said.

The development comes after some Americans trapped in Wuhan have expressed frustration about inadequate communication from U.S. diplomatic officials amid the health crisis. President Donald Trump attended a meeting of a White House Coronavirus Task Force on Wednesday, according a statement by the press secretary and photographs shared by Health Secretary Alex Azar. The White House said that members of the task force had been meeting every day since Monday and that Trump had chaired the Wednesday meeting.

Health officials in Riverside County, California, “issued a quarantine order” Thursday for an individual who was evacuated from Wuhan to the United States this week and attempted to leave March Air Reserve Base, where American evacuees are being temporarily held for observation.

Many countries are curtailing flights to China, with American Airlines suspending several routes scheduled for February and March. American and Unite Airlines, British Airways German carrier Lufthansa, Israel’s El Al, Scandinavian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines also suspended flights, as did some in India and Kazakhstan.

Russia is closing its entire border with China, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced Thursday. Although no cases of the disease have surfaced in Russia, the country does share a 2,615-mile border with China, one of the world’s longest international borders.

The Czech Republic has suspended the issuance of visas until at least Feb. 16. “The visa centers in China are currently closed until further notice,” said Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček. “We took this step to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.” Visas may still be issued “in exceptional and justified cases,” a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website read.

Chinese official data now shows 8,149 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country with 171 deaths, according to state media outlets.

The figure includes nine cases in the self-governing island of Taiwan.

The number of confirmed cases Thursday afternoon was an increase of 400 from the morning. The earlier number had already surpassed the number of infections during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.

At least 96 cases have been recorded outside of mainland China, and three other countries have reported person-to-person transmission of the virus.

About 200 Americans evacuated from Wuhan landed in California on Wednesday. After evacuating 206 people from the city Wednesday morning, Japan is readying a second charter flight to bring more of its citizens. Three Japanese evacuees were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

India and the Philippines reported their first cases on Thursday. South Korea has also reported two new cases, bringing its total to six, while Australia announced a new one, bringing it up to eight.

As shops reopen in Hong Kong Thursday after the Chinese Lunar New Year break, thousands spent their mornings in line at pharmacies, hoping to get their hands on masks and other supplies in extremely short supply. Local news outlets showed snaking lines in neighborhoods all over the city. Most pharmacies only had small numbers of masks, others had none at all, and were forced to turn away people who had been waiting for hours.

Authorities in Australia’s Victoria State have announced a new case Thursday of the coronavirus in a middle age woman visiting from China’s Hubei Province. The latest case brings the total for Australia to nine – three alone in Victoria State.

South Korea confirmed two new cases of coronavirus infection on Thursday, one of which is believed to be the first case of human-to-human transmission in the country. The latest cases announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) brought up the national tally of infections to six.

A 56-year old man contracted coronavirus after he had come in contact with an infected person in South Korea, according to the KCDC. Another man in his 30s who had returned from Wuhan on Friday has been confirmed to have been infected by the virus.

In Manila, Philippine officials confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. The female patient, 38, came from Wuhan on Jan. 21, and has since been admitted to an unidentified government hospital. She was asymptomatic, showing no fever or other signs of illness and was admitted after reporting a mild cough.

The Philippines has stopped issuing visas upon arrival to Chinese tourists, but President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed reluctance toward a total travel ban. China is one of the Philippines’ top sources of tourists, with over a million recorded visits in 2018.

India reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, marking the arrival of the illness in the world’s second-most populous country.

The case involves a student at Wuhan University who returned to the southern state of Kerala, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of Health. The student is stable and in isolation at a hospital, the ministry said.