January 30, 2020

WHO Declares Public Health Emergency Over Coronavirus Outbreak

The World Health Organization’s director-general has declared a public health emergency of international concern over the ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus. The new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, was first detected in Wuhan City in China’s Hubei Province and continues to spread. Health officials in China have reported thousands of infections with 2019-nCoV, and confirmed cases are being reported in an increasing number of locations around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed today in a press release the first case of person-to-person transmission of 2019-nCoV in the U.S., bringing the country’s number of confirmed cases to six.

WHO’s announcement marks the sixth time that the organization has declared such an emergency. WHO last declared a public health emergency of international concern in July 2019 over the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”

CDC has published interim infection prevention and control recommendations related to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak for healthcare settings in the United States. The agency’s infection control procedures include administrative rules and engineering controls, environmental hygiene, correct work practices, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment. CDC’s recommendations address adherence to standard, contact, and airborne precautions, including the use of eye protection; how to monitor and manage ill and exposed healthcare personnel; and the training of healthcare personnel on the prevention of transmission of infectious agents and appropriate use of PPE. The agency plans to update its guidance as response needs change in the U.S.

More information about 2019-nCoV is available on CDC’s website. OSHA has also published a safety and health topic page on the outbreak that collects information on relevant OSHA standards, control and prevention, and additional resources from organizations such as WHO and CDC.