"The Committee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk," said the WHO in a statement.
The decision was made after an emergency meeting reconvened today in Geneva. The risk has now extended beyond China, where it first appeared last month. The declaration is a switch from their previous decision last week to hold off on such a measure. The declaration lets United Nations member states know the severity of the situation and recommend measures they should take to control and prevent the spread of the virus.
The WHO has commended China’s efforts to combat the spread of 2019-nCoV, ceasing flights from the main hub of the outbreak in Hubei Province during the New Year holidays. Still, the total death toll is now at 170 people.
"The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, in a statement on Thursday. "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."
The Committee has re-emphasized the importance of scientific study of the possible source and urged for improved surveillance measures in regions outside Hubei. Support should also be given to vulnerable countries to help prepare for a possible response.
"Given what we’ve seen in China and other countries with the novel coronavirus, CDC experts have expected some person-to-person spread in the US," said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., in a statement. "We understand that this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, we still believe the immediate risk to the American public is low."
Recently, Australian scientists grew the first coronavirus in a development that could help speed up the development of a vaccine. The researchers said they would share the sample with the WHO and labs across the world.
To all countries, the WHO write: "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-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO. Technical advice is available on the WHO website."
"The global community should continue to demonstrate solidarity and cooperation."