WHO declares global emergency as China virus death toll reaches 170

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Beijing/Geneva (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday it was declaring the China coronavirus outbreak that has killed 170 people in China a global emergency, as cases spread to 18 countries.

The United States reported its first case of person-to-person transmission. Experts say cases of person-to-person transmission – which have also been detected outside China in Germany, Vietnam, and Japan – are especially concerning because they suggest greater potential for the virus to spread further.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told a news conference in Geneva that recent weeks have witnessed an unprecedented outbreak which has been met by an unprecedented response.

“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he said. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.”

The declaration of a global emergency triggers recommendations to all countries. It is aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of disease.

Tedros said the WHO was not recommending limiting trade or travel to China due to the outbreak, however.

The vast majority of the more than 7,800 cases detected globally, according to the latest WHO data, have been in China, where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan.

But nearly 100 cases have emerged in other countries, spurring cuts to travel, outbreaks of anti-China sentiment in some places and a surge in demand for protective face masks.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu-like virus was confirmed in a man in Illinois, bringing the total number of U.S. cases to six. The man’s wife, who was also infected, had previously travelled to China, but he had not.