The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak sparked by the coronavirus in China as a global emergency on Thursday, after the number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, while the death toll rose to 213.
This developed as China’s health commission reported on Friday that the confirmed cases of infection have reached 9,692.
Another 102,000 people were also reportedly under medical observation with possible symptoms of the respiratory ailment.
The UN health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
China first informed WHO about cases of the new virus in late December.
Eighteen other countries have since reported cases, as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.
Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China and have noted with concern instances in other countries – including the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam – where there have also been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the worrisome spread of the virus between people outside China.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries,” he said.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”
“This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China,” he said. “On the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”