Coronavirus has become a ‘very grave threat’ rest of the world, WHO boss warns

Global health authorities are warning China's coronavirus outbreak poses a "very grave threat for the rest of the world."

The World Health Organisation's (WHO) boss issued the stark warning today as the body appeals for speedier work to combat the virus.

The WHO is urgently calling for virus samples and speedier research into potential drugs and vaccines today.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's leading public health epidemiologist today warned if the virus isn't stopped it could spread to about two-thirds of the world's population.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made an appeal for speedier solutions to combat the outbreak as China's death toll surges higher than 1,000.


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He addressed the start of a two-day meeting aimed at accelerating development of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines against coronavirus amid growing concerns about its ability to spread.

“With 99% of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” he said.

He added: “The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire. But for now it’s only a spark. Our objective remains containment.”

He urged "solidarity" among researchers and donors as the global science community races for answers to fight the deadly virus.


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Mr Tedros also told reporters there were also “some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China.”

He directly referred to concerning cases in France and Britain, including the discovery of so-called 'super spreader', a businessman who had travelled from Singapore back to the UK.

British businessman and scout-leader Steve Walsh, 53, today revealed his identity and spoke out from quarantine at Guy's Hospital in London, where he told how he had no symptoms until he re-entered the UK.


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He issued a statement from his hospital bed confirming he has beaten the deadly infection, and his thoughts are with anyone else who may have contracted the virus.

But authorities fear Mr Walsh may have come into contact with hundreds of people – and unknowingly infected at least 11 between contracting the virus and his isolation.

The Department of Health in the UK has described the virus as a "serious and imminent threat" to public health.

China has reported 42,708 confirmed cases, including 1,017 deaths to date, according to the WHO.


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Hong Kong University chair of public health medicine Professor Gabriel Leung told the Guardian the virus could infect about 60% of the world's population if is not controlled.

Even estimating the fatality rate of about 1%, the prediction foretold huge losses of life on a global scale, the professor warned.

He said experts believe each person infected could transfer the virus to about 2.5 other people, which gave it an 'attack rate' of 60-80%.

Prof Leung played a pivotal role during the SARS outbreak and works closely with scientists in the UK.

Last month he warned in a paper published in the Lancet that outbreaks like coronavirus were "growing exponentially" in cities in China.


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And he warned self-sustaining outbreaks outside of Wuhan "could become inevitable" because people were moving around freely before they even showed any symptoms of infection.

Prof Leung told the Guardian: “Is 60-80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well.”

He added that outbreaks posed difficulties for public health authorities: “Let’s assume that they have worked. But how long can you close schools for? How long can you lock down an entire city for?


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"How long can you keep people away from shopping malls? And if you remove those [restrictions], then is it all going to come right back and rage again? So those are very real questions.”

Prof Leung said he had spoken to Thai authorities three weeks ago and advised setting up quarantine camps, while scientists work to ascertain how the virus is spread.

The global science community is still yet to find a proven treatment for the virus.

And many questions remain about its origin.

The virus is first known to have emerged at a wildlife market in Wuhan in December, and is believed to be spread by people in droplets from coughing or sneezing.

Reports this morning warned experts now believe the virus can linger on surfaces, such as door handles and bus and train poles, for up to nine days.

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