FAST FACTS: What’s next after novel coronavirus declared an int’l emergency?

Jodesz Gavilan

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The declaration of an international emergency by the WHO emphasizes the importance of global solidarity and cooperation in the face of the coronavirus threat

PREVENTION. Masked workers disinfect a passenger throughfare at the Taoyuan International Airport on January 22, 2020 after Taiwan reported its first case of the novel coronavirus. Photo by Chen Chi-chuan/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, January 30 (January 31, Manila time), declared an international emergency over the deadly novel coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise.

As of early Friday, January 31, the novel coronavirus has killed 212 people and infected over 8,000 worldwide. (READ: The global spread of the coronavirus: Where is it?

The Philippine’s Department of Health confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country – a female patient who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan in China. (READ: FAQs: Ano-ano ang alam natin tungkol sa 2019 novel coronavirus?)

What happens now after the WHO declaration? Here are the important things you need to know about the declaration of an international health emergency:

What is the ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’? What’s the general criteria for a PHEIC declaration?

The declaration of a global emergency is formally called the Public Health Emergency of International Concern or the PHEIC by WHO. 

The 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR) define 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.”

The 2005 IHR is a document that serves as a guide for the prevention or spread of public health risks that threaten people globally.

To fall under a PHEIC, a public health situation: 

  • Should be serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected
  • Carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s borders
  • May require immediate action from the international sector

The PHEIC on the novel coronavirus is the 6th declaration that WHO has made. The others include: the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, polio outbreak in 2014, West Africa Ebola epidemic in 2014, Zika virus outbreak in 2016, and the Kivu Ebola epidemic in 2018. 

Why did WHO declare a PHEIC on the novel coronavirus? 

The January 30 declaration, as advised by a team of international experts, focuses mainly on preventing the further spread of the virus.

In a press conference, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the organization’s greatest concern is “the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.”

In a statement, WHO said that a global coordinated effort is vital to improve preparedness in other areas around the world, especially countries that may need additional support in addressing the spread of the virus.

It also emphasized that the declaration of the international emergency “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. 

What next? What’s the main point of the PHEIC? 

In compliance with IHR article 4, the WHO emergency committee urges the global community to continue to work together towards discovering new information on the novel coronavirus and other similar public health risks.

These information that may prove to be very useful include the novel coronavirus’ full potential for human-to-human transmission, how a country prepared or prevented further spread of the virus, and valuable research for possible treatment. 

The PHEIC also calls for global support for low- and middle-income countries in the face of a global spread of the novel coronavirus, assistance in their response, and access to diagnostics and potential vaccines, among others.

How are countries expected to act after an international emergency declaration?

In a nutshell, countries that currently have confirmed cases are now expected to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus and at the same time ensure that the handling of the situation will not border on discrimination. 

Now that the novel coronavirus situation is considered a global health emergency, the WHO Emergency Committee urges all countries to be prepared for the containment of cases, including:

  • Active surveillance or monitoring
  • Early detection of possible cases
  • Isolation or quarantine
  • Contract tracing or finding the people confirmed cases have interacted with
  • Prevention of onward spreading of the novel coronavirus 

“Countries should place particular emphasis on reducing human infection, prevention of secondary transmission and international spread, and contributing to the international response though multi-sectoral communication and collaboration and active participation in increasing knowledge on the virus and the disease, as well as advancing research,” it said.

As countries follow these steps, the committee demands full transparency and to share their full data with WHO, as legally required by the IHR.

It also does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current situation. Any further measures on travels should be adequately consulted with WHO. 

“Countries must inform WHO about any travel measures taken, as required by the IHR,” it said. 

“Countries are cautioned against actions that promote stigma or discrimination,” the committee added. 

The WHO Emergency Committee is expected to meet again in 3 months to adjust any declaration and recommendations to align with new information. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.