Yes, World Health Organization has declared coronavirus global health emergency

News media from Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere are reporting that the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of novel coronavirus a global health emergency.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday declared coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC),” says a 31 January 2020 report in Nigeria’s Daily Post.

“WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision was based on the recommendations of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005).”

The news has been shared on Facebook – and flagged as possibly false by the social network’s fact-checking system.

Has the WHO declared coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern”?

Understanding new coronavirus outbreak

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. An outbreak of a new strain, given the name “2019-nCoV” and known as “novel coronavirus”, was identified in China in late December 2019.

The WHO says “infection with 2019-nCoV can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever”. It can be more serious in some people, leading to pneumonia or breathing difficulties.

“More rarely, the disease can be fatal,” the organisation says. “Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.”

According to the WHO’s 3 February 2020 update on the outbreak, 17,391 cases of novel coronavirus have been confirmed, 17,238 of them in China. There have been 361 deaths in China and one in the Philippines.

Risk in countries with weaker health systems

On 30 January, the United Nations tweeted: “NEWS: #Coronavirus declared a public health emergency of international concern by WHO.”

And on the same day, the WHO posted on Twitter a live video of a press conference on its emergency committee meeting on the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“We haven’t seen any deaths outside China for which we must all be grateful,” WHO director general Ghebreyesus says in the video. (The death in the Philippines was reported on 2 February.)

“We don’t know what kind of damage this virus would do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility. For all these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of novel coronavirus.” 

Yes, the WHO has declared the outbreak of novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern. – Grace Gichuhi

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