WHO panel puts off decision on whether to sound alarm on rapid spread of new virus

Science | AAAS | 1/22/2020 | Staff
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An emergency committee for the World Health Organization (WHO) today had a tie vote on whether to recommend sounding the loudest alarm available in response to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus that has spread from Wuhan, China, throughout that nation and to at least four other countries.

At a late evening press conference in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chair of the committee, and other WHO officials explained that half the committee decided there were still too many unknowns to a declare Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), a designation that can affect travel and the movement of goods. The decision came hours after Wuhan authorities revealed that the city will shut down all transportation from the city of 11 million people on 10 a.m. local time on Thursday.

Didier - Houssin - Adviser - France - Health

Didier Houssin, an adviser to France’s top health agency and chair of the committee, said half the committee still had questions about whether the patterns of transmission of the disease and its severity warranted a PHEIC. “The committee felt it was a little too unprecise to very clearly state that it was time” to recommend declaring a PHEIC, Houssin said. The committee, which advises WHO’s director-general, will meet again tomorrow to review whether fresh data tip the scales one way or another.

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Alexandra - Phelan - Lawyer - Georgetown - University

Alexandra Phelan, a lawyer at Georgetown University who specializes in global health policy and listened in on the press call, says based on Chinese government and media reports, she thinks the criteria for a PHEIC have been met. But the committee is focusing on a “level of granularity” not in the International Health Regulations, the treaty that allows WHO to declare a PHEIC, Phelan says. “It really came down to their interpretation of what is ‘international spread,’” Phelan says. If...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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