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WHO opens door to change for global public health alerts

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Health Desk- 29 August 2020: The WHO said Thursday it was setting up a committee to consider changing the rules on declaring an international health emergency, following criticism of its Covid-19 pandemic response.

The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) over the new coronavirus on January 30 -- at which time the respiratory disease had infected fewer than 100 people outside China, and claimed no lives beyond its borders.

But under the current International Health Regulations (IHR) governing preparedness and response for health emergencies, there are no lower, intermediate levels of alarm beneath a full PHEIC, either on a global or regional scale.

The WHO has faced accusations -- notably from Washington -- of mishandling the pandemic, and waiting too long to sound the alarm, reports AFP.

WHO experts had met on January 22 and 23, but at that point did not conclude that the outbreak merited the high state of alert of a full PHEIC.

WHO chief Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference on Thursday that the Covid-19 pandemic had been an "acid test" for countries as well as for the IHR. Now the WHO will set up a review committee into the global regulations to see whether any changes should be made, Tedros said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the UN agency recommended suspected cases and their contacts be tested, if possible, but the focus should be on people displaying signs of infection.