MERS virus is not a global emergency, says WHO

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Dr Keiji Fukuda said the virus was of “concern” but did not warrant a global health alert as transmission levels remain low. Photo: UNTV

A killer virus that's claimed 19 lives in Asia could yet infect more people, but does not constitute a global emergency, UN health experts said Wednesday.

The announcement comes from the World Health Organization emergency committee that's dealing with the MERS corona virus outbreak in South Korea and, to a much lesser extent, in China.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, who heads the panel, said there's no evidence to suggest that the virus spreads as easily as other common bugs like the flu.

But he said that it's "absolutely critical" to maintain efforts to limit transmission.

Here's Daniel Johnson's report from Geneva.

Describing the MERS outbreak a "wake-up call" to the international community, the World Health Organization's Dr Keiji Fukuda said he wouldn't be surprised if the virus continued to spread.

But he said that the declining number of infections was a clear sign that efforts to limit transmission of the disease are working.

"It is absolutely critical to keep up high levels of surveillance, keep up high levels of monitoring until we know that transmission is ended and the outbreak is over."

To date, there have been 162 confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS) and 19 deaths in South Korea, and to a far lesser extent, China.

There's no cure for the bug, whose initial symptoms resemble the common cold.

Dr Fukuda – who heads an emergency World Health Organization committee on MERS – said the virus was "similar" to the one in the Middle East and that it had "just moved to a new location", in reference to the latest outbreak.

The WHO expert said the virus was of "concern" and had taken authorities by surprise.

But because of its low transmission, it does not constitute a global health emergency.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1'08"


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