The World Health Organization on Thursday declined to categorize the coronavirus sweeping across China as a global health emergency, saying there is no evidence of human-to-human infection outside China.
Didier Houssin, who chaired an emergency WHO committee, said very few cases have been diagnosed outside China, which he credited to the aggressive work to contain the outbreak.
The panel, which Houssin said was divided almost evenly on the issue, made its recommendation to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"The advice to the director-general provided by the emergency committee is that now is not the time," Houssin said. "It's too early."
More than 500 people in China have been diagnosed with the virus, and at least 17 have died. A small number of cases have been diagnosed in other countries, including one case in the USA.
Tedros, who made the final decision, said WHO is "following the outbreak every minute of every day" and could decide to declare a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC.
Such declarations can result in more resources made available to combat outbreaks but also can spur restrictions on trade and travel.
"This should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously," Tedros said.
LAX passenger from Mexico City receives medical treatment amid coronavirus fears
In the USA, airports in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Francisco stepped up health checks for passengers arriving from China.
In Boston, at least nine people were screened for the virus at Logan International Airport but were cleared and allowed to continue to final destinations. In Los Angeles, an American Airlines passenger arriving from Mexico City was transported to a medical center as a precaution.
"We don't want the American public to be worried about this because their risk is low," says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "On the other hand, we are taking this very seriously and are dealing very closely with Chinese authorities."