WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the “continued increase in cases and the evidence of human-to-human transmission outside of China are, of course, most deeply disturbing.” The illness produces a range of symptoms, with about 20% of the patients developing severe illnesses, including pneumonia and respiratory failure, he said.
“Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak,” Tedros said.
The number of confirmed cases is likely to grow, health officials said. There are more than 12,100 suspected cases in China that are either awaiting test results or haven’t been tested yet, on top of the 8,137 that have already been confirmed in the country, according to WHO and China state media data released Thursday. Although the coronavirus doesn’t appear to be as deadly as SARS, which had a mortality rate of about 11%, it is spreading significantly faster. The WHO data shows there are roughly 1,400 people in China who are severely ill.
Emergency WHO meeting
The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the fast-spreading virus a global health emergency — a rare designation that helps the international agency mobilize financial and political support to contain the outbreak.
The coronavirus has spread to a handful of people through human-to-human contact outside of China, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said at a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters Wednesday.
“These developments in terms of the evolution of the outbreak and further development of transmission, these are of grave concern and has spurred countries into action,” Ryan said. “What we know at this stage, this is still obviously a very active outbreak and information is being updated and changing by the hour.”