The World Health Organization said on Monday the global risk from the deadly virus in China was “high,” admitting an error in its previous reports that said it was “moderate.”
The U.N. health body said in a situation report published late Sunday that the risk was “very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.”
In a footnote, the WHO said there had been an “error” in previous communications published on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday which “incorrectly” said the global risk was “moderate.”
Asked for more detail, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said only that it was “an error in the wording.”
The WHO on Thursday stopped short of declaring the virus an international public health emergency – a rare designation used only for the most severe outbreaks that could trigger more concerted international action.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is visiting China this week to discuss further action to contain the virus, on Thursday said: “This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency.”
WHO’s cautious approach can be seen in the context of past criticism over its slow or too hasty use of the term, first used for the deadly 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
During that outbreak, the U.N. health agency was criticized for sparking panic-buying of vaccines with its announcement that year that the outbreak had reached pandemic proportions, and then anger when it turned out the virus was not nearly as dangerous as first thought.
But then in 2014, the WHO met harsh criticism for dragging its feet and downplaying the severity of the Ebola epidemic that ravaged three West Africa countries, claiming more than 11,300 lives by the time it ended in 2016.
Racing Against the Clock
Hundreds of workers are toiling around the clock at the site of a field hospital that China is racing to build within days to treat a rapidly growing number of patients stricken by the deadly virus.
The outline of a floor began to take shape and electrical switchboards were already up on Monday when AFP reporters visited the site of the facility, dubbed “Fire God Mountain,” being built in Wuhan, the central city where the coronavirus first emerged.
It is one of two makeshift hospitals that Chinese authorities are rushing to build within days in the city of 11 million people to relieve medical facilities swamped with patients waiting for hours to see doctors.
The 25,000-square-metre hospital will have between 700 and 1,000 beds to treat patients of a pneumonia-like virus that has killed 81 people — mostly in Wuhan — and infected more than 2,700 across the country.
The second facility will have 1,300 beds.
“We’ve mobilized all the workers left in Wuhan to work in shifts to ensure round-the-clock construction,” Zhang Chongxi, general manager of the road and bridge company of Wuhan Construction, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
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