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Coronavirus a global emergency, World Health Organization declares

The WHO cited the spread of the illness to other countries, including those "with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it."

Robert Rodriguez/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

With the deadly coronavirus spreading outside of China and deaths reaching 170, the World Health Organization has declared a global emergency. The main reason for the declaration is the spread of the coronavirus to other countries, including those "with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it," the WHO said.

"I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019-nCoV," the WHO's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Thursday. The declaration was made during a press conference about the WHO's Emergency Committee meeting on coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.

Coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread across Asia and to the US, Australia, Europe and the Middle East, with the illness exhibiting pneumonia-like symptoms. It was first reported to the WHO on Dec. 31, with Chinese scientists linking the disease to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include the deadly SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. 

Tedros said Thursday that there have now been more than 7,800 confirmed cases, and 170 deaths. "We must remember that these are people, not numbers," he said.

Declaring the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern means the WHO can provide nonbinding recommendations to address how nations deal with the virus. Its coronavirus recommendations include all countries sharing data, knowledge and experience; accelerating the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; combating rumors and misinformation; reviewing preparedness plans; and evaluating resources for identifying, isolating and caring for cases and preventing transmission.

"To the people of China and to all of those around the world who have been affected by this outbreak, we want you to know that the world stands with you," Tedros said. "We are working diligently with national and international public health partners to bring this outbreak under control as fast as possible."

The WHO has previously declared an international public health emergency five times:

Originally published Jan. 30, 12:21 p.m. PT. 
Update, 1:04 p.m. PT: Mentions previous declarations of an international public health emergency.