The World Health Organization has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, officials announced Thursday.
The announcement comes as the outbreak has grown to include more than 9,700 cases of people infected with the coronavirus — called 2019-nCoV — with 118 of those cases in 22 nations or territories outside of China. So far the virus has killed 213 people, all in China.
"I'm declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the novel coronavirus," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The declaration is not intended as a vote of no confidence in China's response to the outbreak, including its travel ban on 50 million people in the epicenter of the outbreak, said Tedros. Instead, it is an international call to assist smaller countries with less robust public health systems to help thwart the outbreak's spread. No restrictions on travel or trade should result from the declaration, he said.
The decision came after a "near-unanimous" vote by an emergency committee at WHO to recommend the declaration, said committee chair Didier Houssin. The panel had twice last week declined to make the recommendation, but the growth in the number of nations reporting coronavirus cases and the excessive steps taken by some nations to close borders or restrict travel forced the vote this time, he said.
Tedros outlined a series of principles, calling for data sharing, science-based decisions, combatting rumors and misinformation, and support for smaller countries, that should result from the declaration.
"There are only 98 cases outside China," said Tedros, who was lavish in his praise for Chinese efforts to contain the outbreak. "That number would be higher if not for their actions already."