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Opinion

Why it is important to tackle coronavirus now | HT Editorial – editorials

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Still smarting from criticism for failing to contain the spread of viruses such as H1N1, zika and ebola across continents within weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for an emergency meeting on Wednesday. This is to determine whether the spread of the new Sars-like coronavirus from China to three other countries in Asia constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). According to International Health Regulations (2005), a PHEIC is “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”. It includes international protocols for diagnosis, containment and treatment. The meeting is happening in the backdrop of the announcement of the Chinese government that the coronavirus is contagious, which raises the risk of outbreaks manifold as millions travel during the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, beginning January 25.

The WHO issued the year’s first travel advisory on January 10, even though it so far maintains animals are the most likely primary source and there is limited human-to-human transmission between close contacts. New viruses are formed when they mutate to jump species and cause infection in humans. Since 2005, only H1N1 , ebola, zika and polio outbreaks have constituted a PHEIC. And with the world still recovering from the devastating health, social and economic fallout of the failure to contain these viruses, if there isn’t concerted action now, the new virus will wreck lives and economies for years to come.

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