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All The Times WHO Has Declared A Public Health Emergency

The new coronavirus outbreak has become the sixth global public health emergency declared by the World Health Organisation. So, what came before it?

After mounting pressure, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday evening (local time) announced its long-awaited decision to call the coronavirus outbreak a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern", or PHEIC.

It was the third time the agency's emergency committee came together to discuss the new virus strain, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, after twice deciding against declaring a PHEIC.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision was based on mounting evidence of the virus's spread to some 18 countries.

"The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems," he said.

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Coronavirus Declared A Global Health Emergency

The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus epidemic in China now constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

WHO defines a PHEIC as an "extraordinary event" that "constitutes a public health risk to other states through the international spread of the disease", and potentially requires "a coordinated international response".

The vast majority of the more than 7,800 coronavirus cases detected globally, according to the latest WHO data, have been in China, where the virus originated in a live animal market in the city of Wuhan.

The death toll in the province of Hubei had risen to 204 and there were 9,692 cases of infection nationally as of Thursday, Chinese health authorities said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is updated on the virus's status in Australia. Image: AAP

A total of 129 cases have been reported in 22 other countries and regions -- including nine cases in Australia -- spurring cuts to travel and moves to evacuate citizens.

But there have been no reported deaths outside China.

The declaration means WHO's Ghebreyesus can now make recommendations on controlling the spread of the virus. This could tighten containment and information-sharing guidelines to all countries, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence it can beat the "devil" virus.

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This is the sixth time the WHO has declared a global public health emergency.

According to emerging infections expert Tom Solomon, the concept first arose after the Sars coronavirus outbreak in 2003.

Soloman said the Sars epidemic, which also originated in a live animal market in central China, grew for months before authorities took decisive action. By the time the outbreak was brought under control, there were over 8,000 cases and 700 deaths in 37 countries.

Passengers wear protective masks as they walk their luggage in the arrivals area at Beijing Capital Airport. Image: Getty

To date, WHO has declared five other public health emergencies.

The first was made in 2009, with the H1N1, or 'swine flu' pandemic.

In 2014, the agency made one declaration following the resurgence of wild poliovirus in Pakistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Syria. That year, another was made for an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In 2015 - 2016, WHO declared the emergence of Zika virus in Brazil a public health emergency, followed by the 2018-19 outbreak of Ebola in Kivu, a large region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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With AAP.