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WHO declares coronavirus outbreak ‘global emergency’: Here is what it means

WHO’s Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that so far 98 confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus have been detected in 18 countries outside China.

January 31, 2020 / 12:45 PM IST

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of novel coronavirus as a global emergency. The disease, originated first in China, has slowly spread across the globe, killing over 200 people.

When the WHO declares a global health emergency, it is allowed to make recommendations on controlling the further spread of a virus or disease. WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that so far 98 confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus have been detected in 18 countries outside China.

During the press conference, the director-general also noted that that, out of the 7,834 confirmed cases, 7,736 cases have been detected in China. The spread of this virus to other parts of the world has led to declaring Coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

This declaration gives WHO the right to boost measures to contain the spread of Coronavirus. Upon declaring PHEIC, WHO can put advisories and recommendations in place related to travel like screening at the airports, land borders, etc.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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WHO also has the ability to review the measures taken by countries to ensure the health and hygiene standards are at par.

The decision may also lead to providing funds and resources from the international community for the countries with weaker health systems.<

Ghebreyesus, during the press conference, noted that the declaration of Coronavirus as a global emergency is not due to a no-confidence vote in China. “WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak,” Tedros said.

WHO has declared the PHEIC five times previously. These include the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, Polio in 2014, Ebola outbreak in South Africa in 2014, Zika virus in 2016, and Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019. The committee had also put out travel advisories during the 2003 SARS epidemic across regions.
Pranav Hegde
first published: Jan 31, 2020 09:34 am
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