The WHO has upped the global risk assessment that the novel coronavirus poses from moderate to high risk but have not yet declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.
Christian Lindmeier from the World Health Organization (WHO) told journalists in Geneva that although their previous report assessed the risk of the coronavirus as ‘moderate’ at the global level, their latest report has increased this risk to ‘high’, confirming that the virus risk assessment at both the global and regional level “is High, and for China it is Very High”.
The latest number of confirmed cases WHO has received is 4,428 from within China with 106 deaths, and 45 confirmed cases outside of China, in 13 countries.
Understanding the time when infected patients may transmit the virus to others is critical for control efforts, to strengthen response efforts, Lindmeier told journalists. He confirmed that “scientists and medical staff on the ground have learned that the incubation period can be anything between one and 14 days,” admitting that despite symptoms varying during this period, showing no symptoms at all to showing mild, moderate or severe symptoms , “people can transmit the virus within this time.” Detailed epidemiological information from more people infected is needed to determine the infectious period of 2019- nCoV, in particular whether transmission can occur from asymptomatic individuals or during the incubation period, WHO reports confirmed.
Regarding human-to-human transmission, WHO admitted to transfer occurring mainly among close contacts and health care workers whereas a brief window for limited transmission may also occur through shared surfaces, as Lindmeier confirmed. “It stays on the surfaces yes, but if you touch a door handle, for example, or if I would cough into my hand and pass you my phone, immediately it could transfer”.
WHO’s spokesperson said that the time range for this sort of transmission was not confirmed, but it seemed to be “fairly short” if you passed the location of infection “half an hour later, there should not be a problem anymore.”
“It definitely is an emergency,” Lindmeier noted but emphasized that “it is an emergency in China” as most cases still trace back to Wuhan, the city where the virus was said to have been first transmitted. He told journalists that although the virus does not yet warrant an international emergency crisis to be declared as “it has not widely spread outside of China”.
Christian Lindmeier stressed the need “to be prepared” with a coordinated international response and addressing crucial unknowns. A combination of public health measures, such as rapid identification, diagnosis and management of the cases, identification and follow up of the contacts, infection prevention and control in healthcare settings, implementation of health measures for travellers, awareness raising in the population, and risk communication, have been put forth by the WHO to prevent further spread of the virus.
Christian Lindmeier reiterated that “self-protection is still the best possible way we can go about this.” He noted that this virus mimics symptoms similar to the flu, and that “as it behaves flu-like, you can also protect yourself as you would against someone who has the flu.”
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and colleagues are in Beijing to meet with government and health experts supporting the response. The mission’s aim is to understand the latest developments and strengthen the partnership with China, in particular for the response.