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Chinese embassy helping health chiefs stay alert to killer virus

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By Elesha George

Health officials in
Antigua and Barbuda are hoping that their links with China through the local
embassy will help them ward off the deadly coronavirus.

Minister of Health Molwyn
Joseph told OBSERVER media up-to-date information on the illness would
be available via the embassy.

“We’re not relying on
the Chinese to help us create a response. We are treating it the same way we
had to prepare ourselves for Ebola and, when we do so, we try to keep abreast
of all the information that is available, so with this incident in China, we
will be talking to them to see if we can garner any
additional information that will assist us in our response,” Joseph explained.  

The Minister said
officials will continue to coordinate with the World Health Organization (WHO)
and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to combat the threat.

Meanwhile, WHO Director
General, Dr Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, said on Thursday
that it was too early to declare the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of
International Concern (PHEIC).

He said he was only
able to make that declaration after “appropriate consideration of all the
evidence”.

According to the
Director General, WHO’s team is on the ground in China working with local
experts and officials to investigate the outbreak and to get more information.

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Ghebreyesus said most
of the two dozen-plus people who have died presented underlying health
conditions like hypertension, diabetes or cardiovascular disease that weakened
their immune systems. 

He also confirmed
human-to-human transmission in China but said, to date, it would appear that it
is “limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients”.

“At this time there
is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China but that doesn’t
mean it wouldn’t happen,” he warned.

Professor Didier
Houssin, Chair of the Emergency Committee whose job it is to give advice to the
Director-General, said the emergency members were “very divided” on their views
on whether this event constitutes a PHEIC or not.

Houssin said, “Several
were reinforced in their idea that it should be considered PHEIC, considering
the evolution of the epidemic, some increase in the number of cases, in the
severity of the disease but several others say that it is too early because of limited
number of cases abroad and also considering the efforts which are presently
made by Chinese authorities in order to try to contain the disease.”

The Committee did agree
on the virus’s urgency and suggested that members reconvene within days to examine
the situation further.

There have been
increased numbers of cases in China since the virus surfaced, with more than
800 confirmed as of Friday. The virus is said to have been imported to countries
including the US, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

A
number of Caribbean countries are monitoring the situation, with Trinidad and Tobago’s Health Minister
Terrence Deyalsingh announcing that screening at the country’s airport has
started.

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