Following emergency discussions by World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Wednesday regarding the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, the WHO postponed declaring the outbreak a global health emergency. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, citied the need for more information before they could make this call with the committee divided over the decision. The committee reconvened yesterday to continue discussions, but the outbreak is still yet to be deemed a global emergency. Speaking to journalists following yesterday’s meeting Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented “Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency”.
Despite this delay from the WHO, Chinese officials have put in place travel restrictions in an attempt to limit further spread. On Wednesday night, China suspended all flights, including international services, out of Wuhan city and placed the nearby city of Huanggang on lockdown. In response to rising case numbers outside of these areas, further travel restrictions continue to be deployed as needed.
Many in China have taken to wearing facemasks in an attempt to protect themselves from the infection This has prompted panic buying, despite little evidence that such simple masks offer any protection from infection via airborne spread of the virus – the typical route of infection. Speaking to the BBC, Dr David Carrington, a clinical virology specialist at St George's, University of London, commented "routine surgical masks for the public are not an effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air". The masks being widely used are too lose, lack an effective air filter and do not protect the eyes. They may offer protection against “splash” infection from a sneeze or cough, or via hand-to-mouth transmission, but simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and covering your mouth whilst sneezing are still the most important measures to reduce the chances of infection.
As of 09.25 GMT Friday January 24, the case number in China has now risen to 887 confirmed and 1075 suspected, with the death toll now topping 26 and rising including the first death outside of Wuhan. This comes in the wake of the first suspected cases identified in the UK. So far 14 people have been tested in the UK, all of whom had visited Wuhan, with no positives confirmed as yet. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today program, Dr Paul Cosford, medical director for Public Health England however commented that the occurrence of cases in the UK is “highly likely”. Cases outside of China have now been confirmed in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the US, with a possible second case in the US.