January 22, 2020 / 12:57 PM / a month ago

Factbox: WHO expert panel to decide whether new virus is an emergency

GENEVA (Reuters) - A World Health Organisation panel of experts on the new coronavirus met on Thursday to evaluate whether the outbreak, which has spread from China to several countries, constitutes an international emergency.

A World Health Organization (WHO) flag is seen outside its China office in Beijing, China January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The 16 independent experts in disease control, virology, epidemiology and vaccine development were holding a second closed-door meeting at the U.N. agency’s headquarters in Geneva after not reaching a decision on Wednesday.

Didier Houssin, an adviser to France’s national health security agency, is serving as chair. Chinese health authorities made a presentation by teleconference and have allowed a WHO team into the country who are due to report back to the panel.

A news conference was expected later in the day.

Here are some facts about WHO Emergency Committees:

- Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Monday that the WHO had called an Emergency Committee to assess the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year.

- Declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern - known as a “PHEIC” in WHO jargon - is rare.

- The WHO panel’s recommendations, after assessing any evidence of human-to-human transmission and other factors, would be put to Tedros, who would decide whether to declare an emergency.

- Only five emergencies have been declared in the past decade: the H1 virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009), West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, polio (2014), Zika virus (2016), and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2019).

- The WHO’s criteria, laid out in the 2005 International Health Regulations, define a PHEIC as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.

- Such situations are “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected”, carry cross-border implications and may require immediate international action, its rules say.

- A declaration would lead to boosting public health measures, funding and resources to prevent and reduce international spread.

- It could include recommendations on trade and travel, including airport screening of passengers, although the WHO generally aims to avoid disruptive trade restrictions.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones

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