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WHO Declares Global Coronavirus Health Alert But No Travel Ban


Passengers and railway station employees wear protective masks at a railway station in Yekaterinburg on January 29.
Passengers and railway station employees wear protective masks at a railway station in Yekaterinburg on January 29.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus from China a global emergency after cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, but said there was no reason to restrict international travel over the situation.

The UN health agency's decision on January 30 came after China reported its biggest single-day jump in deaths, bringing the total to at least 170, with more than 7,700 confirmed cases in the country, where a confirmed case reported in Tibet meant the virus has now spread to all mainland regions.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the move after a meeting of its Emergency Committee, an independent panel of experts, amid mounting evidence of the virus spreading to some 18 countries.

However, Tedros told a news conference in Geneva that he saw no reason to restrict travel and trade.

"WHO does not recommend and actually opposes any restrictions" on travel and trade, Tedros said, adding that he was confident China was taking adequate measures.

"Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China," he said.

"Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems."

Earlier, Russia, where there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus, kept its 4,300 kilometer-long land border -- the fifth-longest land border in the world -- with China partially closed and suspended the issuance of electronic visas to Chinese nationals.

Rail freight is continuing to circulate between the two countries, direct daily flights are continuing, and a passenger train that operates between Moscow and Beijing remains in service.

Countries across the globe have begun isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan in an effort to stop the spread of the viral outbreak.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced his country's measures to tackle the virus at a cabinet meeting on January 30.

"The corresponding order was signed today, and it started being implemented. We will properly inform everyone of the measures linked to the closure of the border in the Far East region, as well as other measures by the government [to prevent the spread of the coronavirus]," he said.

The virus is thought to have emerged last month from a live wild-animal market in Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei where almost all the deaths so far have been reported. Hubei, home to 60 million people, is now under virtual lockdown.

Italy's health ministry said two Chinese passengers on a cruise ship had tested negative for the coronavirus, meaning thousands of stranded passengers could disembark.

The owner, Costa Cruises, was offering to pay for food and hotels for some 1,140 people who had been due to disembark at the Civitavecchia port near Rome, and the Costa Smeralda, carrying some 7,000 passengers, was to set sail again on January 31 in the morning, Italian media said.

Australia, South Korea, Singapore, and New Zealand have said they will quarantine all of their evacuated citizens for at least two weeks, while the United States and Japan planned voluntary isolation for shorter periods.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government said it will not evacuate its nationals stranded in China. Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, said the decision was in accordance with recommendations from the WHO.

"It is in the interest of the region, world, and country that we don't evacuate them now," Mirza said, adding that four Pakistani students in China were diagnosed with the coronavirus. Some 500 Pakistani students are based in Wuhan.

U.S. health officials said that, for the first time in the United States, the virus has spread from one person to another.

The latest case -- the sixth in the country -- is the husband of a Chicago woman who got sick from the virus after she returned from Hubei. There have been previous cases in China and elsewhere of the virus spreading between people in a household or workplace.

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