The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus outbreak in China a public health emergency of international concern.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, announced the decision after a meeting of independent panel of experts, amid mounting evidence of the virus spread to some 18 countries.
He said the greatest concern was the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.
The outbreak has killed 170 people in China where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan.
The vast majority of the more than 8100 cases detected globally have been in China, but more than 100 cases have emerged in other countries, from Japan to the United States.
“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no-confidence in China”, Dr Tedros said
He praised the “extraordinary measures” taken by China taken to prevent the new virus from spreading.
Coronavirus was an “unprecedented outbreak” that had been met with an “unprecedented response”, he said.
The WHO panel, chaired by Didier Houssin of France, is composed of 16 independent experts.
Twice last week the experts had decided not to declare an emergency while they sought more information from China and awaited evidence of confirmed person-to-person spread of the virus in other countries, so as to meet their criteria for a global emergency.
The declaration of a global emergency triggers recommendations to all countries aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of disease, while avoiding unnecessary interference with trade and travel.
It covers temporary recommendations for national health authorities worldwide, which include stepping up their monitoring, preparedness and containment measures.
Although the WHO has no legal authority to sanction countries, it could ask governments to provide scientific justification for any travel or trade restrictions that they impose in the event of an international emergency.
More to come…
– Reuters / BBC