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SARS-era WHO chief speaks out on coronavirus outbreak Updated: 2020-02-10 16:06:44 KST

The novel coronavirus epidemic is very similar to SARS when it first appeared in China in 2002.
That's according to Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was the head of the World Health Organization at that time.
SARS had also spread beyond borders to other Asian countries, such as Vietnam, and then across the world killing one out of every ten people it infected.
However, the coronavirus is showing a much lower mortality rate at the present time.

"The ease of spread is higher than in SARS case. But their mortality is far, far lower. But it's had, though, has already spread to about 25 countries. So clearly it was correct that WHO declared a global health emergency."

When the virus failed to be contained within the epicenter of the outbreak, the Chinese city of Wuhan, countries across the world started slamming shut their borders to foreign visitors who had been in the city.
Brundtland says it was the right action and a move that had to be taken.

"You know these things are always difficult because governments and authorities are responsible for public health. If they don't take action, they will be criticized for not taking action. When they take action, somebody will feel they are affected by something which is difficult for them. So, you know, it's easy to criticize, but it is maybe worse if you are criticized for not having taken. Necessary precautions and necessary public health decisions to try to contain and to avoid a spread of a new disease like this."

Because a new virus like the novel coronavirus does not yet have a vaccine or a cure, the best option is to prevent more people from getting sick in the first place.

"Avoiding spread from that person to health personnel. But also to family members and to other contexts, because it's it spreads very easily, it is highly infectious. So by trying to contain and help the person and both contain and avoid spread is really the major public health consideration."

Asked how long she expects this epidemic to last, Brundtland says that, by looking at how many countries it has sprouted up in so far, it's likely to linger longer than SARS, which lasted four-and-half months.
Hong Yoo, Arirang News.
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