GENEVA (Reuters) – A World Health Organisation panel of experts on the new coronavirus met on Wednesday to evaluate whether the outbreak, which has spread from China to several countries, constitutes an international emergency.
The 16 independent experts in disease control, virology, epidemiology and vaccine development held a closed-door meeting at the U.N. agency’s Geneva headquarters.
Didier Houssin, an adviser to France’s national health security agency, was seleted as chair. Chinese health authorities were to make a presentation by teleconference.
A news briefing is tentatively set for Wednesday at 1800 GMT.
Here are some facts about WHO Emergency Committees:
– Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Monday that the WHO had called an Emergency Committee to assess the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year.
– Declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern – known as a “PHEIC” in WHO jargon – is rare.
– The WHO panel’s recommendations, after assessing any evidence of human-to-human transmission and other factors, would be put to Tedros, who would decide whether to declare an emergency.
– Only five emergencies have been declared in the past decade: the H1 virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009), West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, polio (2014), Zika virus (2016), and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2019).
– The WHO’s criteria, laid out in the 2005 International Health Regulations, define a PHEIC as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.
– Such situations are “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected”, carry cross-border implications and may require immediate international action, its rules say.
– A declaration would lead to boosting public health measures, funding and resources to prevent and reduce international spread.
– It could include recommendations on trade and travel, including airport screening of passengers, although the WHO generally aims to avoid disruptive trade restrictions.
(This story refiles to make it clear in the 8th para that Tedros would decide whether to accept panel recommendations and declare an emergency)
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Giles Elgood