The UN health agency on Thursday declared an international emergency over the deadly coronavirus from China -- a rarely used designation that could lead to improved international coordination in tackling the disease.
"Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems... This is not a vote of no confidence in China," World Health Organization chief WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.
The concern is that it could spread to countries with weaker health systems.
The death toll now stands at 170 people in China.
The WHO said there had been 98 cases in 18 countries outside of the country, but no deaths.
Most cases have emerged in people who have travelled from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
However, there have been eight cases of human-to-human infection – in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.
Dr Tedros, speaking at the press conference in Geneva, described the virus as an “unprecedented outbreak” that has been met with an “unprecedented response”.
He praised the “extraordinary measures” Chinese authorities had taken to prevent it from spreading.
“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he added.
BBC Health correspondent James Gallagher said the WHO will now be able to support lower and middle-income countries, helping them strengthen their disease surveillance and prepare them for possible cases.
Although questions have been raised about transparency, the WHO has praised China’s handling of the outbreak. President Xi Jinping has vowed to defeat what he called a “devil” virus.
The central province of Hubei, where nearly all deaths have occurred, is in a state of lockdown. The province of 60 million people is home to Wuhan, the heart of the outbreak.
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