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

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:

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: 

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. 

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. 

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.

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:

“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 also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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