30 Jan 2020

WHO worried about spread of coronavirus outside of China

4:38 pm on 30 January 2020

The World Health Organisation has voiced "grave concern" about the person-to-person spread of coronavirus in three other countries, outside of China, ahead of an emergency committee meeting to decide whether it now constitutes a global emergency.

People wearing a mask walks past about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China at Ginza shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, January 26, 2020.  (Photo by Hitoshi Yamada/NurPhoto)

Photo: AFP / FILE

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO was worried by the progress of the virus in Germany, Vietnam and Japan, especially in human-to-human transmission.

Chinese authorities said the outbreak has now killed 170 people, and confirmed a total of 7711 cases across the country and territories.

The WHO's panel of 16 independent experts met twice last week declined to declare an international emergency.

"We are at an important juncture in this event. We believe these chains of transmission can still be interrupted," said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program.

Dr Ryan also praised China's response. "They are taking extraordinary measures in the face of what is an extraordinary challenge," he said.

The situation remained "grim and complex", said Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to defeat the "devil" virus.

United States President Donald Trump said he had spoken to Xi and his administration was working closely with China on containing the outbreak.

Three people evacuated from Wuhan to Japan have tested positive for coronavirus after arriving on a government-chartered plane.

Japan evacuated more than 200 people to Tokyo yesterday, with 12 of them reporting feeling unwell upon their arrival.

More than 200 Americans have also landed at a California military base after being evacuated out of Wuhan, where they will be monitored for three days to ensure they show no signs of the illness.

Some major airlines suspended flights to China, and a senior economist predicted a major impact on growth.

Australia announced it will evacuate Australians trapped in Hubei province and transfer them to a quarantine centre on Christmas Island.

France has sent a plane to evacuate 200 citizens and two other flights are possible, while the United Kingdom's Foreign Office said it was "working urgently to organise a flight to the UK as soon as possible". Canada was also organising evacuations.

Russia has announced measures to prevent the virus from spreading from China and closed its border with China until March 1.

The deadly coronavirus is spreading across the globe, with no end in sight.

The number of cases of the new virus in China now exceeds the 5,327 that were infected with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which also originated in China and killed about 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.

"There have been more cases in China, but so far with a lower death rate than the SARS outbreak," said Michael Head, a health researcher at the University of Southampton.

WHO estimates the death rate of the new virus is at about 2 per cent and most people infected seem to only experience mild illness. In comparison, the SARS virus killed about 10 per cent of people who caught it.

However, alarm has grown over the rapid spread of the new strain known as 2019-nCoV and its many unknown attributes.

Like other respiratory infections, the new virus is spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes, with an incubation time between one and 14 days.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs