WHO to work closely with Saudi Arabia during Umrah season

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Abu Dhabi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) will work closely with authorities in Saudi Arabia to ensure that the upcoming pilgrimage season does not pose additional health risks with regard to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), it was announced on Sunday.

At the first regional media conference on the 2019-nCoV by the WHO in Cairo on Sunday, experts at WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHO-EMRO) added that the UAE has a heightened level of preparedness to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV, even though it is the only country in the region to have reported 2019-nCoV infections till date.

UAE preparedness

“The UAE receives thousands of travellers every week from various Chinese cities, and the country has therefore raised its level of preparedness,” said Dr Dalia Samhouri, manager for country health preparedness and international health regulations at WHO-EMRO.

People wearing mask at Gold Souq in Dubai. 29th January 2020 Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

She further indicated confidence in the UAE’s measures to prevent the spread of the virus that originated in China and has so far killed more than 300 people so far in China, and one person in the Philippines. The virus has also infected more than 14,000 so far.

China transparency

Experts at the press conference also testified to China’s transparency in handling the 2019-nCoV outbreak.

“China has been transparent in dealing with the outbreak. [For instance], they dealt with the concerned parties in the WHO by reporting the first case very few days after its detection, and China also speedily provided the WHO with the 2019-nCoV genomic map, which has enabled all other countries to undertake the necessary laboratory tests. Other countries have been able to detect the virus as a result, and this is a gesture of China’s willingness to cooperate with WHO in managing the epidemic,” said Dr Jaouad Mahjour, director of emergency preparedness at the WHO.

Dr Mahjour added that the WHO is managing 10 task forces composed of the top scientists and researchers to identify the source of the vaccine, its trajectory and therapeutic measures. He said that four countries can already test for the 2019-nCoV in laboratories, and that 10 more countries will be able to do so by the end of the week.

Low fatality rate

Experts also called upon people not to panic, given the low rate of mortality recorded for the 2019-nCoV so far.

“The fatality risk is very low at 2.2 per cent of cases. So we should take precautions, but there is no need to panic,” said Dr Abdi Nasir Boubakr, team lead for infectious hazards management at WHO-EMRO.

Such precautions include wearing a face mask when one shows signs of respiratory illness.

Virus may be season-specific

Dr Richard Brenan, regional emergency director at WHO-EMRO also added there is a chance that the 2019-nCoV spreads more in cold weather, as do many coronaviruses, including the ones related to the common cold. It may mean that the incidence of 2019-nCoV is season-specific, but this is still being investigated at present, he added.

Experts also added that the 2019-nCoV has not yet been detected in countries with low health preparedness, and that the WHO is working with such nations, including with conflict-stricken nations in the region, to prevent its spread.

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