“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” he added.
The WHO panel, chaired by Didier Houssin of France, is composed of 16 independent experts.
Twice last week the experts had decided not to declare an emergency while they sought more information from China and awaited evidence of confirmed person-to-person spread of the virus in other countries, so as to meet their criteria for a global emergency.
The declaration of a global emergency triggers recommendations to all countries aimed at preventing or reducing cross-border spread of disease, while avoiding unnecessary interference with trade and travel.
It covers temporary recommendations for national health authorities worldwide, which include stepping up their monitoring, preparedness and containment measures.
Although the WHO has no legal authority to sanction countries, it could ask governments to provide scientific justification for any travel or trade restrictions that they impose in the event of an international emergency.
There are nine confirmed cases in Australia – three in Victoria, four in NSW and two in Queensland.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday morning that updated travel advice on the Smartraveller website now advised Australians to “reconsider your need to travel to China overall”, and “do not travel to Hubei Province”, the epicentre of the virus outbreak.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australians in Wuhan could be evacuated to Christmas Island to be quarantined for 14 days. The evacuation will cost Australians $1000.
About 600 Australians are trapped in the Hubei province, with dual citizens fearing they may not be allowed to leave the country. DFAT on Thursday night told Australians stuck in Hubei province that if they arrived on their Chinese passports, local authorities might prevent them from travelling.
Qantas, the government and Beijing officials spent Thursday discussing how to execute the evacuation plan.
The CSIRO has started growing batches of coronavirus as it races to create a vaccine. The leading science agency’s test will focus on three possible vaccines being developed by other scientists, including work being done by researchers at the University of Queensland.
Earlier this week, scientists at Melbourne’s Doherty Institute grew a sample of the deadly disease in the lab.
Australia is the only country outside China to have grown the virus in a cell culture, putting us at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic.
Reuters, staff reporters