A quickly spreading coronavirus in China that has sickened hundreds of people and caused 17 deaths has not yet reached a level that would make it a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.
The Emergency Committee of the United Nations’ WHO announced the decision after a two-day teleconference of members and advisers in Geneva. Committee members agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested another meeting within days to examine the situation further.
"Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "But it is not yet a global health emergency."
Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency advisory committee, said the panel was split "almost 50-50" over whether the outbreak of the coronavirus in China amounted to a global public health emergency.
The decision was made based on several critical elements, including that the source of the virus is still unknown and that the extent of human-to-human transmission is still not clear, the committee said.
The UN health agency said it’s expected that more cases may appear in any country, but for the moment, the WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade.
Cases of the illness have been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
The WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" that poses a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Previous global emergencies have been declared for the Zika outbreak in the Americas in 2015 and the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
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