UN body’s chief says main reason for the declaration was to prepare for the spread of the virus to poor countries ill-equipped to control it

The new coronavirus that has swept across China, killing more than 170 people, infecting thousands and prompting unprecedented lockdowns, is now officially a global emergency, according to the World Health Organization.
The director-general of the WHO issued the declaration Thursday, one week after he told the world it was too early to deem the epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
The main reason for declaring an emergency Thursday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, was to prepare for the spread of the novel coronavirus to poor countries ill-equipped to control it or care for those who get sick.
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We must all act together now to limit further spread,” Dr. Tedros said, adding that, our greatest concern is for the virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems that are ill-prepared to deal with it.
Dr. Tedros stressed that the declaration is, not a vote of no confidence in China, a country he praised for its swift and transparent response to the outbreak.
The WHO declaration came as Canada began evacuating vulnerable relatives of diplomats in mainland China, and as it prepared to airlift out 196 other Canadians who have asked for consular help to leave China.
Ottawa has not yet explained when or how Canadians will be evacuated or what will happen when they land here.
The United States is keeping nearly 200 evacuees from China at a California military base for three days, after which those who pose little risk of infecting others will be allowed to monitor their symptoms from home.
Australia plans to quarantine evacuees on Christmas Island, near Indonesia, for two weeks. South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia have all said they plan to quarantine returning evacuees for two weeks, as well.
Canada is one of 18 countries outside China where cases of the new coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, have been confirmed since China reported a cluster of severe pneumonia cases caused by a mystery virus on Dec. 31.
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The virus has been found in two patients in Ontario and one in British Columbia, all of whom recently travelled to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Public-health officials in Ontario said that, as of Thursday morning, the provinces laboratory had tested samples from 67 patients suspected of contracting the virus.
Thirty-eight came back negative for 2019-nCoV and the results of another 27 tests are pending, said Barbara Yaffe, Ontarios associate chief medical officer of health.
Ontarios chief medical officer of health says the relatively low number of novel coronavirus cases in Ontario is reassuring. In a regular briefing today, Dr. David Williams and associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said there are no new presumptive or confirmed cases in the province.The Canadian Press
At least 7,818 cases of 2019-nCoV infection have been confirmed worldwide as of Thursday, according to the WHO, all but 82 of them in China.
Some 1,370 patients have severe cases of the illness caused by the new virus, which the WHO has provisionally dubbed, 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease.
The WHOs emergency declaration came a few hours after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first case of person-to-person transmission inside the United States.
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A Chicago woman in her 60s who had recently returned from Wuhan passed the virus to her husband, CDC officials said.
“Given what weve seen in China and other countries with the novel coronavirus, CDC experts have expected some person-to-person spread in the U.S, CDC Director Robert Redfield said. We understand that this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, we still believe the immediate risk to the American public is low.
In declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, Dr. Tedros was acting on the advice of a 15-member emergency committee that met Thursday in Geneva.
Last week, the committee was split on whether to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, a declaration that enhances the director-generals power to make recommendations for combating an outbreak.
The declarations real power, however, lies in its ability to rally the international community to fight global health emergencies.
Thursdays declaration marks the sixth time the WHO has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern since the process was created in 2005.
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The United Nations health agency reserves the emergency declarations for serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected diseases that have public-health implications beyond the countries where they were first detected and which require a coordinated international response.
Previous declarations have been issued for two Ebola outbreaks in Africa, the Zika epidemic, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic and the resurgence of wild polio in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
– With reports from Nathan VanderKlippe and Kristy Kirkup