The World Health Organization on Thursday officially concluded the novel coronavirus is a public health emergency of international concern.
The designation means that the United Nations agency considers it to be a significant threat beyond Chinese borders, where the virus originated.
"I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of [the coronavirus], not because of what is happening in [China], but because of what is happening in other countries," the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, following the meeting of the Emergency Committee.
About 83 cases had been reported in 18 countries when the WHO convened the meeting. There had been three cases of human-to-human transmission in three countries, including the United States, that involved people who had not traveled to China. No death outside the country has been reported.
Tedros expressed concerns over the coronavirus spreading to other countries with weaker healthcare systems that may not be able to tackle it the way China can.
WHO Praises China's Efforts
The WHO warned against governments acting on stigma, rather than scientific evidence, when it comes to tackling the spread of the virus.
The international agency said it doesn't recommend any travel or trade restrictions on China due to the virus.
"Let me be clear. This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China," Tedros said at a press conference. "I have never in my life seen this kind of mobilization."
The WHO said that Chinese authorities acted quickly in identifying the virus and sharing its sequence so that other countries could protect themselves. "The measures China has taken are good not only for that country but also for the rest of the world," it said.
The Wuhan authorities' move against eight people, all of which were doctors, for spreading "Wuhan virus rumors," before the virus was officially identified, was criticized by the University of Chicago professor Dali Yang and others as the government's priority to "maintain stability" no matter the costs.
Why It Matters
The WHO's role in combating the outbreak is likely to increase following the declaration, with it increasingly collaborating with the Chinese authorities. The agency had decided against declaring the coronavirus as an international public health emergency in its first emergency meeting last week.
While the WHO doesn't carry the force of law, but it can provide valuable advice and expertise to willing governments.
China has already expressed its willingness to collaborate with the WHO and other international organizations.
The death toll from the virus has risen to 213, with 9,692 confirmed cases, according to the official numbers reported by Xinhua News Agency.