Last Thursday the WHO declared the international Coronavirus outbreak a Health Emergency of International Concern.  WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease” and “require a coordinated international response.”  

The most important words there are the require an international response words.  Declaring the Coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern allows the WHO to better coordinate the international response and hold countries accountable if they don’t implement certain standards regarding things like travel, trade, quarantine or screening.  The declaration can also free up additional resources to implement interventions.

There’s still a chance that a combination of public health interventions can slow or stop the spread of this new virus – but the chances of that happening are decreasing in my opinion because of that fact that it has now spread to some countries with less mature public health systems.  Much will depend on whether persons are truly communicable before they have symptoms- a key indicator for how effective isolation interventions can be.  Other key information that’s still not complete includes how virulent (serious) and how communicable the virus is.

If it begins circulating in the US at some point, we will have advantages that China doesn’t have right now- a better understanding of the etiology of the disease and the most effective treatment options.   

However, it has to be said that the Chinese have advantages that the US public health system won’t have – in that they’re able to implement public health interventions that we could never do because of civil liberty constraints.