WHO declares coronavirus an emergency as flights get canceled, market tanks and fears spread

February 02, 2020
by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter
As the coronavirus continues to spread — having infected over 10,000 and killed over 200 worldwide — the World Health Organization has called it a global health emergency, airlines plan to suspend U.S.-China flights and the market has dropped on fears of its economic impact.

To help fight the spread, Siemens Healthineers has sent two ultrasound machines and a CT scanner to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of a rapidly-spreading virus epidemic, according to Reuters.

In addition, China is rushing to build two hospitals due to open next week to handle additional patients, according to Business Insider.

On Friday, the CDC confirmed its seventh U.S. case, it said in a statement. It is also awaiting results on over 120 others whose investigations are pending.

Also on Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced at a White House briefing that, starting Sunday, “U.S. citizens who have been in China's Hubei province during the past 14 days and are returning to the U.S. States will undergo health screenings and be monitored during mandatory quarantines of up to 14 days,” according to USA Today.

“Over the past few weeks we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen that has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters on Thursday, according to Yahoo News. “We must act together now to limit the spread.”

The WHO declaration comes as cases have now cropped up globally, including in the U.S., U.K. and Russia, and “in at least 18 other countries, surpassing the epidemic of Sars — severe acute respiratory syndrome — in 2003,” according to the BBC.

A human-to-human transmission case in the U.S. was confirmed Friday by CDC, when they revealed that a Chicago woman had spread the virus to her husband. She had been in Wuhan, while he had not made the trip with her, according to WGN in Chicago.

“She was not symptomatic when flying. And based on what we know now about this virus, our concern for transmission before symptoms develop is low, so that is reassuring,” Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, told CNBC.

The U.S. has also issued a travel advisory recommending not traveling to China in the wake of the outbreak.

“Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China,” the State Department declared, according to AP.

The novel virus was first found in Wuhan, China a month ago.

“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” WHO's Tedros said.

But at the same time, he urged calm, noting that at this point his organization was not advising “measures that unnecessarily interfere with international trade or travel.”

In fact, misinformation is spreading along with the virus — and some health professionals have taken to online media to help allay concerns and also counter unfounded fears.

BBC pointed to celebrity doctor and YouTube influencer, Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, who told the news channel, "There is so much misinformation out there. They take statistics not validated by scientists and put them online. It causes anxiety among the public and creates panic," stressing that, "The reason it is so dangerous is it can lead people to make bad decisions for themselves and their families."

Be “alert, not anxious,” he recommended in the video, which as been seen over 3 million times as of Friday.

While the illness can be fatal, it is generally not as dangerous as Sars, with “about 20 percent of patients getting severely ill," with pneumonia and respiratory failure, according to WHO.

At present, models are estimating that over 75,000 in Wuhan may have the virus, according to a report in The Lancet, reported by UPI.

"Not everyone who is infected with 2019-nCoV would require or seek medical attention," study co-author Gabriel Leung, of the University of Hong Kong, said in a statement. "During the urgent demands of a rapidly expanding epidemic of a completely new virus, especially when system capacity is getting overwhelmed, some of those infected may be under-counted in the official register."