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An expert panel determined that the situation was very serious in China — but not globally. However, WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said the panel's opinion was divided.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said it was "too early" to declare a global health emergency over a newly discovered strain of coronavirus that has killed at least 18 people in China.
While the vast majority of the hundreds infected live in China, cases have been reported in several other countries, including the US and Vietnam.
'Not yet a global emergency'
"I am not declaring a public health emergency of international concern today," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at an emergency summit on the disease in Geneva.
"This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency," he told reporters, stressing, however, that this "should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious."
WHO said it is monitoring the situation each day, and may change its mind about declaring a global health emergency if things worsen.
According to Ghebreyesus, the panel of 16 experts were divided in their opinion.
18 million people on lockdown
China has placed 18 million people on lockdown, particularly in Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the outbreak began. The measure has impacted the world's largest human migration — known as Chunyun — when tens of millions of Chinese people travel to meet their families for the Lunar New Year celebrations, which begin this weekend.
Images from Wuhan showed eerily empty shops and restaurants. If people living in or near Wuhan do venture outside, they are now required to wear medical masks.
Chinese officials have not said how long these city-wide shutdowns will last. Some international airports have also begun implementing basic checks for signs of the virus, such as high fever, for visitors arriving from China.
This strain is believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan. Health officials have said it cannot be transmitted between humans.
The virus causes fever, coughing,trouble breathing and pneumonia. It is similar to the deadly SARS virus, which killed nearly 800 people in China in 2003.
es/stb (AP, Reuters)