What is a global health emergency and why has it been called in response to Coronavirus?

The World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency in response to the Coronavirus crisis in China.

More than 170 people have died from the virus so far, with large parts of China now on lockdown amid fears it may spread further.

So what is a global health emergency and why does it mean?

What is a global health emergency?

The virus, which originated in Wuha, China, has authorities on high alert. Credit: AP

The World Health Organisation defines a global health emergency, also known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, as an event where disease has the risk to spread internationally.

The organisation outlines how one of the defining factors of such a pandemic is when an international response may be required; taking in a multi-national approach to containing the spread of disease, like Coronavirus.

The declaration of such an emergency inclines countries to step-up their preparation and prevention against the spread of the virus.

What measures can be put in place when a global health emergency is declared?

Face masks have become a common sight in China as the virus spreads. Credit: AP

The World Health Organisation has money set aside for these kinds of emergencies, known as the Contingency Fund for Emergencies.

So far it has allocated US$1.8 million (£1.3 million) to tackling Coronavirus in targeted regions around the world. The money for this comes from a collection of nations, with the UK putting almost US$11 million (£8.5 million) into the pot last year.

Additional funding may now be secured to treat and prevent the spread of the virus.

The 196 member states of WHO have a binding international legal agreement to implement the decisions of the organisation, meaning a more coordinated response to outbreaks.

This could also include travel-related recommendations like screenings at land borders and international airports.

The organisation does not advise total travel bans and advocates for the normalisation of international travel and trade through such times.

What is the UK likely to do about the global health emergency?

Authorities in China are being extra vigilant over the outbreak to stop it spreading. Credit: AP

The British government has arranged a repatriation flight for Britons in Wuhan city and those from Hubei province who want to return to the UK.

The UK has already outlined a series of measures to halt the spread of the disease. Those returning from affected areas are being told they will spend two weeks in quarantine after returning from China.

Officials will take passengers to a military base once they arrive home, the Department of Health said.

The NHS has already advised those who have already returned home from the affected areas to remain in isolation after returning home; avoiding school, work and public places for 14 days.

What could this mean in terms of international travel?

New hospitals are being built in Wuhan to treat those with the virus. Credit: PA

Flights into the UK from the majority of destinations are likely to be unaffected.

However, British Airways has already announced it will not fly to China until March as a result of the outbreak.

Wuhan has already closed its airport and effectively put it's 11 million population into isolation for an as yet undefined period.

The WHO does not recommend general travel bans or trade restrictions, as well as restrictions that include general quarantine of people arriving from affected regions.

It seems unlikely there would be any widespread disruption to the UK on the scale seen in China, but an increased virus awareness campaign from government agencies can be expected.

Has a global health emergency been declared before?

Ebola has ravaged parts of Africa, with an increased awareness of the disease shown. Credit: AP

Yes, in fact there are two ongoing global health emergencies still in place.

Ebola, which has ravaged East Africa, was declared a disease of international concern by the World Health Organisation in July 2019.

The disease has so far taken the lives of more than 3,000 people.

Polio, which was once thought eradicated, has also made a reemergence has also been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.