World Health Organization Declares Global Health Emergency Over Novel Coronavirus, Governments Issue New Travel Warnings For China

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Yesterday afternoon the World Health Organization (WHO) has finally declared a Global Health Emergency over the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and many governments have now issued stern travel warnings for China.

The virus was first reported on December 31, 2019 and has in the first four weeks killed 170 people and infected more than 9000 most of which live in mainland China.

Despite the rare step of declaring a worldwide emergency the organization is still treading on political eggshells, not finding a clear voice to urge people to stay away from China. Governments have now started to issue their own travel warnings and began to repatriate their citizens from China.

Commercial air travel has ceased to a large degree as foreign carriers started to halt their operations to mainland China in fear of their staff contracting the disease and due to plummeting booking numbers. A personal source told me that as of this week it was almost impossible for carriers such as Lufthansa and Austrian to operate their flights as crew would call in sick when scheduled for a China flight.

The WHO says in a statement as linked above:

Representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China reported on the current situation and the public health measures being taken. There are now 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

The WHO Secretariat provided an overview of the situation in other countries. There are now 83 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only 7 had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.

At its first meeting, the Committee expressed divergent views on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not. At that time, the advice was that the event did not constitute a PHEIC, but the Committee members agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested that the Committee should continue its meeting on the next day, when it reached the same conclusion.

This second meeting takes place in view of significant increases in numbers of cases and additional countries reporting confirmed cases.

The Committee welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency, and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak. China quickly identified the virus and shared its sequence, so that other countries could diagnose it quickly and protect themselves, which has resulted in the rapid development of diagnostic tools. …

The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success. In line with the need for global solidarity, the Committee felt that a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world that may need additional support for that.

It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoVinfection, and to share full data with WHO. Technical advice is available on the WHO website.

Countries are reminded that they are legally required to share information with WHO under the IHR.

With all (un)due respect but this epitomizes everything that’s wrong with International Organizations. Countless talks and in the end all that comes out is a communique (way too late) that even compliments China on so many levels it’s almost comical.

Since it appears to make no sense to rely on action and information of the WHO, governments have taken matters into their own hands.

The U.S. Department of State upgraded their travel notice to China to the highest level (4) and stringly advises against ANY travel at this time.

The German Government sticks to their partial travel warning currently restricted to the Hubei Province of China, yet recommends to postpone any unnecessary travel to China. Being forceful in their advise has never been the strong side of the German Foreign Ministry and the widespread reputation of it is that it’s pretty much useless. Never rely on the German Embassy or Government if you’re in trouble abroad.

Meanwhile the government exposes itself to yet another posse, charging those repatriated citizens that would eventually travel back to Germany on an Air Force jet would have to pay for their transport. While no official number have been announced the cost would be near that of an Economy Class ticket. Considering the emergency and how much money Germany pays for other humanitarian efforts is it reasonable and good taste to charge your own 90 citizens a symbolic amount of 1000 EURO per passenger?

Australia opened itself up to similar criticism as they not only plan to charge their citizens $1000 tor repatriation but also quarantine them for two weeks on Christmas Island, an isolated spot of land far away from Australia’s shores. The island gained notoriety as it’s being used by the government to house illegal migrants.

Sydney physiotherapist Bon Lee, who is in Hubei province with his wife and 12-month-old daughter, said he was still not sure whether he would take up the government’s offer.

Mr Lee said he was concerned about hopping on a flight where he or his family could catch the virus from other passengers.

“I just want to keep my options open … The main thing is safety for the people, my family, my patients. I also need to weigh up risks of going to Christmas Island,” he said.

“It’s great for quarantine to be far away from everything, but if something bad happens, the closest hospital is in Darwin 2700 kilometres away.”

Home affairs minister Peter Dutton was grilled by a news show panel this week:

… “Do you think you’re going to have many takers for the evacuation – trading a quarantine zone of a deadly virus for a hell hole?” the hosts asked.

“We have said to people before, and we will repeat it again now, we want to provide support to those who want to get out,” said Mr Dutton.

“There will be some citizens who are long term residents in Wuhan province, and they will make a decision as to whether or not they want to leave. …

Australian Citizens can read up on more details here.

Cruise ship companies such as Costa Cruises were also affected as a ship, the Costa Smeralda with 7000 people on board was still in limo before finally being cleared 9 hours ago and the passengers plus crew are allowed to leave the ship.

Conclusion

The situation is pretty bad. Governments and IO’s took way to long to formulate a strong response and this is the result. The repatriation patchwork of many countries is just another debacle on top of it all. Would people have been advised earlier to leave the affected area while there were still plenty of commercial flights this would have been much easier.

It must be horrible for the people who are facing this situation themselves or who have family members that currently undergo treatment. Especially those in China who are plainly told by the government to stay at home. For the WHO to laude the Chinese government for transparency and support is totally unfounded.

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