The World Health Organisation will today convene a panel of experts to determine whether a viral outbreak in China constitutes an international public health emergency—a rare step taken only for serious epidemics like the Ebola and Zika outbreaks.
A new strain of coronavirus, which comes from the same family as SARS, has infected over 300 and killed at least 6 people as of January 21. The outbreak has been traced to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, with additional cases reported in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as abroad in Japan, Thailand, and South Korea.
Chinese authorities announced on January 20 that the new virus is transmittable between humans—14 medical workers reportedly caught the illness while treating patients.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese will travel domestically and abroad to celebrate the Lunar New Year in the coming days, the world’s largest annual human migration. This has raised fears that the virus may spread throughout the world’s most populous country and across borders.
If today’s meeting results in the declaration of an international public health emergency, it will enable the WHO to recommend measures like travel restrictions to be taken by China and other countries at risk. Anxiety over the outbreak has already unnerved stock markets, and analysts fear further spread could cause disruptions throughout the global economy.
Wake up smarter with an assessment of the stories that will make headlines in the next 24 hours. Download The Daily Brief.
Kevin is an editor and analyst for the Current Developments Team, contributing regularly to the Daily Brief. He specializes in political and security issues in Asia, particularly with respect to China.