China coronavirus – a reminder of the WHO’s “Disease X”

China coronavirus 2019-nCoV

In 2018, the WHO R&D Blueprint highlighted 10 prioritized diseases with a particular potential to cause a public health emergency. On the list was Disease X:

“ […] representing the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.”

The new Chinese coronavirus, preliminary named 2019-nCoV, has now spread to the larger Chinese cities Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as to Japan, Thailand and South Korea. Although it seems to cause less severe infections than the SARS-virus, the spread is of global concern and the virus is confirmed to pass from person to person.

Chinese New Year celebrations begins next week and with it the largest annual human migration on the planet. To ensure that the new year is filled with good health, it is traditionally taboo to take medicine or visit the doctor during the subsequent 11-day Spring Festival. This combination poses a serious challenge to authorities as they respond to the current coronavirus outbreak.

We certainly hope and believe that the outbreak will be limited. Nevertheless, the outbreak is a reminder that “Disease X” calls for a robust preparedness around the world.

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