İrem UZUN -TDO- The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday it was declaring the China coronavirus outbreak that has killed 170 people in China a global emergency, as cases spread to 18 countries. The WHO met this evening, when it was decided to declare the illness a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The United States reported its first case of person-to-person transmission. Experts say cases of person-to-person transmission - which have also been detected outside China in Germany, Vietnam, and Japan - are especially concerning because they suggest greater potential for the virus to spread further.

The virus, which emerged Dec. 31, has already spread to more people than the 2003 SARS epidemic that sickened roughly 8,100 people across the globe over nine months. As of Thursday afternoon, 8,137 cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in mainland China alone, according to Chinese state media, and more than 100 cases were confirmed elsewhere around the world — bringing the global total to at least 8,248.

WHO doesn't enact the emergencies lightly, health experts say. The last time WHO declared a global health emergency was in 2019 for the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that killed more than 2,000 people. The agency also declared global emergencies for the 2016 Zika virus, the 2009 H1N1 swine flu and the 2014 polio and Ebola outbreaks.

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