GENEVA, Switzerland – The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus a global health emergency.
The United Nations health agency made the rare designation on Thursday, acknowledging that the virus now represents a risk beyond China, where the outbreak is believed to have originated from late last year.
By declaring the global health emergency, WHO officials hope to mobilize financial and political support to contain the outbreak.
The declaration serves as a notice to all UN countries that the world’s top health advisory body rates the situation as serious, The New York Times reports. Now, countries can decide whether to close their borders, cancel flights, screen people arriving at airports or take other measures.
Thursday, Chinese authorities reported that at least 170 people have died in their country as a result of the virus and more than 7,000 infections have been confirmed. Meanwhile, nearly 100 cases have been confirmed in 18 other countries.
In the United States, six cases have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And on Thursday, officials announced the first case of a person-to-person transmission in the U.S. In that case, officials say a woman who recently returned to Chicago from Wuhan transmitted the disease to her husband.
Also on Thursday, 6,000 people were stranded on an Italian cruise ship over fears that one passenger had been sickened with the virus.