China reassures Kenya as WHO declares global emergency

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Security personnel checks the temperature of journalists before a press conference in Beijing on January 26, 2020.

The Republic of China has assured Kenyans that it is monitoring the entry of Chinese nationals into the country so as to avert spread of novel coronavirus amongst Kenyans.

In a press statement sent Thursday, the Chinese Embassy said there is no suspected case of the disease among Chinese nationals in Kenya, even as the numbers of infected persons continue to swell in different parts of the world.

The statement came only minutes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus a global emergency.

“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference.

By Thursday 23:00 hours, the number of people who had died due to the virus in China had increased to 171 while globally 8,152 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed. The embassy said despite the high numbers of confirmed cases, at least 141 people had been treated, cured and discharged.

“People’s life and health is above everything else. The Chinese Embassy in Kenya is continuously monitoring the entry of Chinese nationals into Kenya.”

WEAK HEALTH SYSTEMS

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Dr Ghebreyesus said that the reason for declaring the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) was to help the agency take charge of global coordination and control of the disease.

Further, Dr Tedros said the WHO does not know the extent of damage the new strain of coronavirus can cause should it be detected in a country with a weak health system.

“Over the past few weeks we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen that has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak,” Dr Tedros said during a news conference at WHO’s Geneva headquarters on Thursday.

“We must act together now to limit the spread …We have also seen eight cases of human-to-human contact in Germany, US, Japan, and Vietnam,” the WHO chief added.

LONG WAIT FOR RESULTS

In Kenya, health officials are awaiting test results of a suspected case of coronavirus under investigation.

Until last evening, the government claimed that they were yet to receive results that had been taken to both the National Influenza Centre and abroad.

The Ministry of Health also declined to disclose where the samples had been sent to, as doctors managing the patient and his family wait anxiously.

The Kenyan student, who has not been named, is the first person to be tested for the pneumonia-like virus in the country and the second in Africa.

Officials from the Department of Disease Surveillance and Response Unit yesterday visited the student, said to be in his 20s, at the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit (IDU) where he is currently in isolation to determine his condition.

The officials collected samples from the patient and were taken to the National Influenza Centre for testing. It is, however, not clear when preliminary results will be out.

UNKNOWN PATHOGEN

“Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen which has been met by an unprecedented response. We would have seen many cases and deaths outside China but the measures taken by China have seen cases reduce,” added Dr Tedros.

However, there have been eight cases of human-to-human infection — in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States. Dr Tedros, speaking at the press conference in Geneva, described the virus as an “unprecedented outbreak” that has been met with an “unprecedented response”.

WHO on Wednesday warned all governments to “take action” over the deadly SARS-like virus spreading from China, as hundreds of foreigners were evacuated from the epicentre of the outbreak.

The second meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV in the People’s Republic of China, with exportations to other countries, took place on Thursday.

The Committee’s role is to give advice to the Director-General, who makes the final decision on the determination of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The Committee also provides public health advice or suggests formal Temporary Recommendations as appropriate.

WHEN HAS THIS HAPPENED IN THE PAST?

WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern when there is “an extraordinary event which is determined … to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease”.

It has previously declared five global public health emergencies:

•Swine flu, 2009 -The H1N1 virus spread across the world in 2009, killing more than 200,000 people, and a public health emergency was called to ensure the world was carefully monitoring its spread and able to respond, including with vaccines.

•Polio, 2014 – Although closer than ever to eradication in 2012, polio numbers rose in 2013. An emergency was declared due to fears the global fight against its eradication could face a major setback.

•Zika, 2016 – The WHO declared Zika a public health emergency in 2016 after the disease spread rapidly through the Americas. Although for many Zika symptoms are mild, it can be dangerous for pregnant women and the emergency was called to spur urgent research.

•Ebola, 2014 and 2019 – The deadly disease has twice been declared a public health emergency. The first one lasted from August 2014 to March 2016 as almost 30,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died in West Africa.

The WHO cited “the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems” in affected countries.

A second emergency was declared last year as the disease spread in DR Congo.

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