WHO declares coronavirus a global public health emergency

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared coronavirus to be a global public health emergency as more than a dozen countries deal with confirmed cases of the deadly virus.

The U.N. health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

“We are working diligently with national and international public health partners to bring this outbreak under control as fast as possible,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said Thursday at a news conference.

He said officials have confirmed more than 7,800 cases of coronavirus globally. A vast majority of the cases were reported in China, where 170 people have died. No cases outside China have proved fatal thus far, according to officials.

Authorities said the 2019 novel coronavirus was first identified last month in Wuhan, China. It’s since spread to more than 20 countries, including the United States and Canada. In America, six people have been confirmed as having been infected with the coronavirus: two in Illinois, one in Arizona, two in California and one in Washington.

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.

In a travel health notice issued Monday, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended travelers “avoid all nonessential travel to China,” noting that authorities in the country have closed several transportation hubs in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Chinese authorities announced last week that crews were rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital to help alleviate overcrowding at hospitals in Wuhan, a city with a population topping 11 million. Officials expect to complete construction on the 270,000-square-foot lot by Feb. 3, The Associated Press reported.

China has been largely praised for a swift and effective response to the outbreak, although questions have been raised about the police suppression of what were early on considered mere rumors — a reflection of the one-party Communist state’s determination to maintain a monopoly on information in spite of smartphones and social media.

Officials recommend that any people who have recently traveled to Wuhan and subsequently experienced flu-like symptoms -- including fever, coughing, shortness of breath or a sore throat -- contact their health care providers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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