The World Health Organization has declared coronavirus to be a global health emergency. The announcement, which was made at a news conference in Geneva today, comes just hours after the first case of human-to-human transmission was detected in the U.S.
"The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China, but what is happening in other countries," said WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHO's criteria for declaring a global health emergency calls for an "extraordinary event" that poses a public-health risk through the international spread of disease and might require a coordinated global response. The last time WHO announced a global health emergency was in July 2019 over the Ebola virus.
Public fear over coronavirus has been rising as the number of infected in China rose to more than 7,700 and the death toll reached 170.
According to WHO, there are now 82 cases of coronavirus across 18 countries outside of China -- seven of the people had no history of traveling to China. Affected countries include Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United States and Vietnam.
Six cases have now been confirmed in the U.S. across four states: Washington, California, Arizona and Illinois. Symptoms of the pneumonia-like virus include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
For the meetings industry, most of the immediate effects to this point have been felt in China, as airlines cancel flights, some companies are restricting or freezing travel to the country and sporting events have been postponed. As of midweek this week, representatives from both the Professional Convention Management Association and the American Society of Association Executives said their respective members had not notified them of any changes to their events as a result of the outbreak.
But spokespeople note the situation is developing rapidly. PCMA recommends their members continue to monitor the situation with updates from local, national and international agencies, and has created a frequently updated resources page.
Meanwhile, practical travel precautions should be taken. "We urge the traveling public to monitor the guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and other public-health organizations," advised U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement. "At the moment, health experts continue to emphasize that the coronavirus risk in the U.S. remains low, and that the precautions being undertaken are specific to travel to and from China. At the same time, U.S. health officials are urging the same personal best practices that are standard for a typical flu season -- frequent washing of hands, etc. -- and continue to closely track the situation in the event that further precautions become necessary. As we head toward a busy period for business and leisure travel, all of the current expert advice indicates that travel in the U.S. can and should continue as normal."
Amy Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council, called on members and industry advocates to remain informed and prepared, and to consider the health of the industry as well as traveler safety. "While none of us can be certain of the impact of the current coronavirus outbreak, we know how deeply this type of challenge can alter lives and economies of the regions directly involved, as well as those that feel its ripple effect," she said in a statement. "We want to offer our support and leadership during these challenging times, and ensure decisions regarding hosting events, travel and face-to-face interactions are made from a fully informed space.
"In the short term, should your plans find you in a position that necessitates change, consider postponement of your event while finding opportunities to support at-risk communities," Calvert continued. "Acknowledge that the current situation is temporary and make a firm commitment to return. Continue to be what we have always been -- advocates for transparent and ethical decisions based on facts and necessity. Use your internal and external resources to implement a communications strategy to your stakeholders, then share those learnings and outcomes to help your peers and colleagues. To our friends and colleagues in China and other affected areas, we send our heartfelt concern and support. We are ready and available to coalesce information and communication channels to share what you need now, and what you will need for future recovery."
The Events Industry Council has also created a resource page with updated information on the outbreak.