WHO declares public health emergency of international concern

Foreign Affairs

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A map from John Hopkins CSSE showing reported cases of 2019-nCoV infections as of January 30, 2020, 11 a.m. EST.

The World Health Organization has declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

The “Conclusions and advice” section of the announcement is mostly praise for China’s handling of the epidemic, but the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee “agreed that the outbreak now meets the criteria” for a PHEIC. Proposed actions, in brief, are:

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. It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.  

The best tool for tracking the spread of the virus worldwide we have found so far is from the John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering — the image above is a screenshot. For the most up-to-date information on infections within China, Ding Xiang Yuan remains the best resource.

The virus — or rather the wise guidance of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 on how to handle it, and exhortations for the people to fight the disease like an enemy army — is the top story on the home page of Xinhua News Agency (Chinese and English), and the People’s Daily website and print edition (in Chinese).

This is in stark contrast to most of January. An analysis of the front pages of the People’s Daily by China Media Project reveals that mention of the virus was notably absent from the publication’s front pages throughout much of the month.

Breaking, as we prepare to send this newsletter, from Bloomberg and Hubei’s health authority (in Chinese): “China’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to at least 212 people, health officials from Hubei province reported, after 1,200 new cases there were confirmed over the past 24 hours.”

Here is a selection of some of the more compelling reports on the virus and its ongoing ramifications:

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross indulged his ghoulish side on TV, per CNBC:

“I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Ross told Fox on Thursday morning. “But the fact is, it does give businesses another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain.”

The coronavirus is “another risk factor that people need to take into account,” Ross said. ″I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America,” he said.

The Washington Post reports that “public health experts were quick to criticize Ross’s comments as inaccurate and dangerous, saying such messaging could suppress reports of new infections.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is reportedly “wary” about commenting on the coronavirus.

Local Wuhan officials continue to bear the brunt of public questions and anger over what is perceived to be their slow response to the virus and poor public communication, reports the Associated Press. Yale scholar Taisu Zhang observes in ChinaFile that central government officials, meanwhile, have managed to escape much of the criticism and that this dynamic is likely something central officials have “consciously cultivated and reinforced over the years.”

Panicked citizens and local officials across China have taken measures into their own hands with the construction of makeshift barricades around their homes, per the Hong Kong Free Press. Signs and loudspeaker recordings have also been spotted cautioning outsiders and those returning from Hubei to stay away.

“Furniture giant IKEA is temporarily shutting its China stores in response to the fast-spreading new coronavirus, the latest in a string of Western brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s that have made similar moves,” Caixin reports.

A 17-year-old boy with cerebral palsy in a rural Hubei village has died after his family members were quarantined elsewhere with suspected coronavirus. The Guardian reports that local officials were understood to have visited the boy within the six-day period he was left alone, but only fed him twice.  

Huanggang is the epidemic-stricken Chinese city 50 miles from Wuhan that has reported 324 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV. A high-ranking city health official there has been removed from her post after a meeting with an inspection team sent by the central government, where she struggled to answer even basic questions regarding the epidemic in her city.

More updates on the Wuhan coronavirus:

—Alex Smith and Jeremy Goldkorn