Novel coronavirus outbreak not a pandemic: WHO

It is only an epidemic with multiple foresides as most cases are concentrated in China, says UN body

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Wednesday 05 February 2020

The current outbreak of the novel coronavirus is not a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a press conference on February 4, 2020.

Most cases of the viral infection are concentrated in one province of China at the moment, Sylvia Briand, WHO’s director of the pandemic and epidemic diseases department, said in the conference.

“What we see is that 78 per cent of cases are coming from Hubei province. Intense human-to-human transmission is taking place there. But outside Hubei, we are only seeing spill over cases,” she said. 

Briand added that those spill over cases were being reported because people from Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicentre, had moved out before a lockdown was announced in the city.  “There are a cluster of cases at other places too but efforts are on to prevent the creation of another Hubei,” she said.

Five more countries / territories — Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, the United States and Hong Kong — have confirmed human-to-human transmission in their jurisdictions. This means even those people are getting infected now, who had no travel history of China.

“Early case detection and isolation is going on. Even contact tracing is happening. Based on these measures, we can say that though it is challenging, the virus’ spread can still be contained,” Briand said.

“We are facing only an epidemic at the moment, with multiple foresides and not a pandemic. Interrupting transmission in these foresides is our challenge,” she added.

A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease, according to this WHO page. The virus is currently in the third generation of transmission

The global total tally of cases on February 5 reached 24,469 cases, according the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, with 27 more countries being affected. The new count is an increase of 4,000 cases in the last 24 hours. The death toll now stands at 492.

Briand also spoke on various countries evacuating their citizens from China, which the WHO has opposed so far. “We are trying our best to harmonise the actions of various countries. We are still in the early stages of the outbreak and it is difficult to assess the implications of these measures,” she said.

After evacuation, some countries are adopting minimal quarantine measures. Briand said the WHO hoped that whatever its member states did, it would be in the best interest of their citizens.

However, she raised alarm about what she described as an ‘infodemic’ — an epidemic of misinformation on the current outbreak. She cited the example of Germany where a scientific paper claimed that even asymptomatic cases were capable of transmitting the virus.

“People have panicked after thinking the virus is simply in the air. This is false as the virus can only be transmitted through air droplets or physical contact,” Briand said. 

She also took exception to the fact that many experts were recommending a treatment protocol without the results of clinical trials being in.

“Many have recommended the use of retroviral drugs used for HIV patients. While it may or may not work as symptomatic treatment, it is not the final treatment as it is being projected. On the other hand, it many create a shortage of drugs for HIV patients,” she said.  

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