Coronavirus outbreak in China – what it means for Europe

Coronavirus outbreak in China – what it means for Europe

Agency News

Copenhagen, Jan 25: Following notification of pneumonia cases of unknown cause in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified as the cause by Chinese authorities on January 7. Since then, neighbouring countries and elsewhere around the globe have heightened their surveillance to quickly diagnose potential new cases of the virus linked to this outbreak. More people infected with 2019-nCoV have since been identified in China, as well as imported cases in other countries.

This is not entirely unexpected given the volume of travel between Wuhan and other countries. Based on current information, an animal source seems the most likely primary source of this outbreak, with at least some human to human transmission occurring. The emergency committee, convened on January 22 and 23 under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), considered that it is still too early to declare the 2019-nCoV outbreak in China a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The WHO Director General accepted this advice.

“Make no mistake,” commented Dr Tedros, “This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.” While a PHEIC has not been declared at this time, WHO is continuing to follow the outbreak in China closely to understand more about it and contain it as early as possible. Due to the global nature of travel, it is expected that further international exportation of 2019-nCoV cases may appear in any country and the possibility of cases arriving in the European Region cannot be excluded.

WHO encourages countries in the European Region to continue to prepare in case this new virus is imported. This includes establishing how to promptly detect sick people, test samples from suspect cases, ensure appropriate infection control and case management to minimize the risk of the virus spreading, and maintain communication with the public. Probable and confirmed 2019-nCoV cases should be reported to WHO/Europe, according to the IHR.

Health professionals are the cornerstone of effective case detection and management, and they should be engaged and trained to identify potential cases, treat them, ensure infection prevention and control measures are in place in health-care settings and provide public health advice.

WHO has published a series of technical documents for guidance in areas such as surveillance, laboratory investigation, clinical management, infection prevention and control, country readiness and risk communication. In particular, WHO/Europe is working with countries to identify reference laboratories in the Region with the capacity to test for this new virus. Laboratories identified so far include: National Consultant Laboratory for Coronaviruses, Institute of Virology, Charité, Robert Koch Institute, Germany; Department of Viroscience, Erasmus University Medical Center, the Netherlands; Respiratory Virus Unit, Public Health England, the United Kingdom. (UNI)