How is the United Nations responding to the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) / COVID-19 outbreak in China?
Last Updated: Feb 17, 2020     Views: 1245

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.

On 7 January 2020, the Chinese authorities confirmed that they have identified a new virus: a coronavirus (CoV), temporarily named “2019-nCoV.” Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Additional cases have since been identified in Chinese cities outside of Wuhan as well as other countries outside of China.

WHO, the lead agency for UN response, is closely monitoring the outbreak and is in active communication with counterparts in China.



On 11 February 2020, under agreed guidelines between WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization, a name has been chosen for the disease: COVID-19.

On 30 January 2020, following the advice of the second meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee, the WHO Director-General declared that the outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

On 27 January 2020, the advice for international traffic was updated with advice for entry screening in countries/areas without transmission of the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV that choose to perform entry screening.

On 24 January 2020, the advice for international traffic was updated: human-to-human transmission has been confirmed largely in Wuhan city, but also some other places in China and internationally. Not enough is known about the epidemiology of 2019-nCoV to draw definitive conclusions about the full clinical features of disease, the intensity of the human-to-human transmission, and the original source of the outbreak.

On 22 and 23 January 2020, members and advisors of the WHO Emergency Committee deliberated to determine whether novel coronavirus is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Several members considered that it is still too early to declare a PHEIC, given its restrictive and binary nature.

On 21 January 2020, WHO published the interim guidance for Global Surveillance for human infection with novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) for Member States which intends to help Member States adapt existing surveillance mechanisms or implement new surveillance mechanisms for 2019-nCoV and to facilitate the reporting of 2019-nCoV cases to WHO for the purpose of global surveillance.

On 10 January 2020, WHO published an advice for international travel and trade in relation to the outbreak of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus in China.



WHO’s standard recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are as follows, which include hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices:

  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands;
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough;
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider;
  • When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals;
  • The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

This FAQ will be updated as new information of the disease outbreak becomes available.

Feb 17, 2020     1245


Disclaimer: answers are prepared by library staff using resources available at the time of writing. This site may include links and references to third-party databases, websites, books and articles, this does not imply endorsement by the United Nations.


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