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As coronavirus outbreak worsens, China agrees to accept help from WHO

by Ace Damon
As coronavirus outbreak worsens, China agrees to accept help from WHO

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Chinese officials agreed on Tuesday to allow the World Health Organization to send international experts to China to help research and contain the worsening coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing has repeatedly declined offers of assistance from outside experts, including scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Informed that the WHO would soon send a team to China, Azar said he was "satisfied" and assumed that CDC scientists would be included.

Azar had told reporters that three initiatives to send CDC scientists to China have so far been unacceptable. The first offer was made on January 6, he said.

WHO Director-General Adhanom Ghebreyesus Tedros met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday to discuss plans to contain the new coronavirus. The two agreed that international experts would visit China to help investigate the situation and improve the global response.

"WHO is working closely with the government on measures to understand the virus and limit transmission," said Tedros.

He praised Chinese officials for sharing data about the virus, including its genetic sequence. "We appreciate the seriousness with which China is facing this outbreak," he said.

Azar described China's response as "completely different" than the glare that accompanied the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which sickened more than 8,000 people in 29 countries and resulted in 774 deaths. Still, he encouraged Chinese officials to be more open about the status of the growing outbreak.

"We are asking China: more cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take to get a more effective response," said Azar.

Nearly 5,000 people worldwide were infected with the virus and 106 people died, according to experts who followed the outbreak at Johns Hopkins University.

Without further information, the CDC cannot confirm the Chinese government's assessment that people who are infected with the coronavirus, but who have no external symptoms, can spread it to others, said Azar. All the data the US has is based on US patients who have symptoms, he said.

China's decision to receive international aid came hours after Germany confirmed its first case of a patient with the rapidly spreading virus.

A 33-year-old man from the Starnberg region, south of Munich, is believed to have been infected last week by a Chinese colleague who visited his workplace, German officials said on Tuesday.

The woman did not show any symptoms of infection or began to feel sick even after returning home to Shanghai on Thursday. Before traveling to Germany, she was visited by her parents, who live in the Wuhan area, where the outbreak began.

The German began experiencing bronchitis-like symptoms over the weekend. He felt good enough to go to work on Monday, but notified his company of his condition after hearing that his colleague had tested positive for the virus.

The man is now in good condition at a Munich hospital, where he is being monitored in isolation as a precaution, officials said.

Azar said efforts are underway across the US government to prepare for the possibility of a worsening situation. Emergency response authorities are taking inventory of the country's medical supply stock, and scientists at the National Institutes of Health are conducting long-term research on vaccines and treatment options for the virus.

In addition, the State Department is coordinating the repatriation of Americans in China, and public health officials will examine airline passengers for symptoms of coronavirus at 20 US airports.

Azar urged citizens everywhere to commit to hand washing and to stay home when they are sick. There is no need to accumulate N95 masks at this time, he said, although pharmacies have reported selling them.

"This is a very fast and ever-changing situation," said Azar. "Americans should know that this is a potentially very serious threat to public health, but right now, Americans shouldn't be concerned about their own safety."

The Associated Press was used to compile this report.

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