Coronavirus has been labelled an international public health emergency after the viral infection has killed 170 people in China. The number of cases has jumped to 7,711, surpassing the 5,327 people diagnosed with Sars. The declaration comes just hours before an evacuation flight to bring British nationals back to the UK is due to leave the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom said: “Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak, and which has been met by an unprecedented response.
“As I have said repeatedly since my return from Beijing, the Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken to contain the outbreak, despite the severe social and economic impact those measures are having on the Chinese people.
“We would have seen many more cases outside China by now – and probably deaths – if it were not for the government’s efforts, and the progress they have made to protect their own people and the people of the world.”
The WHO director-general added: “I also offer my profound respect and thanks to the thousands of brave health professionals and all frontline responders, who in the midst of the Spring Festival, are working 24/7 to treat the sick, save lives and bring this outbreak under control.
“There are now 98 cases in 18 countries outside China, including eight cases of human-to-human transmission in four countries: Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the US.
“So far we have not seen any deaths outside China, for which we must all be grateful. Although these numbers are still relatively small compared to the number of cases in China, we must all act together now to limit further spread.
“The vast majority of cases outside China have a travel history to Wuhan, or contact with someone with a travel history to Wuhan.
Passengers on the evacuation flight, which will have military medics on board, will land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Friday morning.
They will then be taken to an NHS facility on the Wirral for a quarantine period of 14 days.
It is understood they will be taken to a former student accommodation block in the grounds of Arrowe Park Hospital.
Passengers will have access to the internet and be able to make contact with family.