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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Naohiko Hatta - Pool/Getty Images

The World Health Organization declared the fast-spreading strain of coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced Thursday.

Why it matters: Ghebreyesus said the organization made the declaration not because of the outbreak in China, but out of fear it could spread to countries that do not have the capacity to contain it. The threat is WHO’s highest alert level.

What they're saying: "WHO is prepared to provide assistance to any country considering what action to take," Ghebreyesus said. "Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

"I applaud Dr. Tedros for declaring a PHEIC. Now, there is no time to lose. The WHO should urgently create a Global Action Plan that lives up to the three essential values of the International Health Regulations: public health, human rights, and international trade and travel. The action plan should mobilize billions of dollars for a surge public health response; rapid vaccine development; and protection of human rights. If we join together as a global community with shared purpose and resolve, we can successfully contain this global health threat.”
— Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, per a statement
  • Ghebreyesus praised China's response to the outbreak, saying it set "a new standard for outbreak response."
  • "We would have seen many more cases outside China by now [...] if it were not for the government's efforts."

The state of play: The disease has already killed at least 171 people in China and there were more than 8,000 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in China, per official data from health authorities as of 11 a.m. ET.

  • The CDC confirmed a patient in Illinois as the first person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S.
  • The U.S. State Department has placed U.S. diplomatic staff and their families in China on "authorized departure," meaning they are permitted to leave the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Of note: Before Thursday's announcement, WHO has made this declaration only five times since it became able to do so in 2005.

Go deeper: What's happening with the coronavirus

Go deeper

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

1 hour ago - World

Abbas announces first Palestinian elections in 15 years

Abbas is 85 and in the 15th year of a 4-year term. Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published a decree on Friday announcing the dates for parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Why it matters: This is the first time in 15 years that such a decree has been published. The last presidential elections took place in 2005, with Abbas winning, and the last parliamentary elections took place in 2006, with Hamas winning.