SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

WHO issues statement on novel coronavirus

The novel coronavirus that infected multiple people in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comes with many question marks, according to a statement issued on Sunday by the World Health Organization.

The WHO said it knows that the coronavirus, which is from the same family as the SARS virus, is often accompanied by severe pneumonia. It also said that most of the people infected by the virus have been older men, often with other medical conditions. Aside from the known facts, however, the WHO has many questions about where the virus lives, how often infected people would develop mild disease and if the pattern of the virus will change over time.

"There are many other things that we don't understand," WHO said. "For example, how are people getting infected? Is it from animals? Is it from contaminated surfaces? Is it from other people? Finally, we don't know how widespread is this virus, both in this region and in other countries."

The WHO said its greatest concern is related to the potential for the new virus to spread. The virus demonstrated limited person-to-person transmissibility in different clusters seen in multiple countries. There is no evidence the virus can sustain generalized transmission in communities.

The organization said that countries inside and outside the Middle East must increase their levels of awareness among all people, particularly among healthcare workers. Since experiencing cases, Saudi Arabia has improved its surveillance, and other countries should follow Saudi Arabia's lead on this matter.

"We want to note that the government of Saudi Arabia has taken the novel coronavirus situation very seriously," WHO said. "The Ministry of Health has initiated crucial public health actions -- including intensifying surveillance, initiating investigations and important research and putting control measures in place."

The WHO said some of its questions about the virus require urgent answers and the answers hold the keys to preventing future infections.