WHO Declares Novel Coronavirus a Global Health Emergency; HHS Secretary Azar Declares Public Health Emergency


On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the ongoing coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the declaration, noting, “Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen, which has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak, and which has been met by an unprecedented response.”

The global health emergency declaration can be used to coordinate international control and response activities, as well as galvanize international funding. The WHO’s procedures indicate three criteria for a global health emergency which include “an extraordinary event” that “constitutes a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease” and that “potentially require(s) a coordinated international response.”

The most recent WHO global health emergency occurred in July 2019 during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as a 2016 declaration for the Zika virus and a 2014 declaration for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The full announcement from WHO is available here.

United States

On Friday, United States Health and Human Services Secretary Azar declared a public health emergency for the nation in response to 2019 novel coronavirus. During the press conference, Azar acknowledged the risk to Americans remain low, while also noting that the virus poses a serious public health threat. The declaration is retroactive to January 27, 2020.

The press release can be viewed here.