GENEVA (Reuters) – World Health Organization (WHO) experts met on Wednesday to evaluate whether the new coronavirus outbreak constitutes an international emergency.

Only five such emergencies have been declared in the past decade: the H1 virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009), West Africa’s Ebola outbreak (2013-2016), polio (2014), Zika virus (2016), and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2019).

Here are details:


The swine flu pandemic of 2009 killed an estimated 284,500 people, about 15 times the number confirmed by laboratory tests at the time, according an international group of scientists.

A 2012 study in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal said the toll might have been as many as 579,000 people. The original count, compiled by the WHO, put the number at 18,500.


An Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia between 2013 to 2016 killed at least 11,300 people, more than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined.

It cost the economies of those three countries an estimated $53 billion, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.


In 2014, the WHO declared the resurgence of polio to be a public health emergency of international concern.

Pakistan’s failure to stem the spread of the disease triggered the global measures, which also applied to Syria and Cameroon. Polio cases in Pakistan rose from 58 in 2012 to 93 in 2013, more than a fifth of the world total of 417.


The WHO in 2016 declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern. Zika had spread to more than 60 countries and territories since the outbreak was identified in Brazil in 2015.

By November 2016, when the WHO declared an end to the Zika emergency, there had been some 2,300 confirmed cases worldwide of babies born with microcephaly, most in Brazil.

Microcephaly is a condition marked by abnormally small heads that can lead to developmental problems.


The WHO’s Emergency Committee on Ebola declared the outbreak an international emergency in July last year.

By Jan. 14, there had been 3,406 cases of Ebola, including 2,236 deaths, in the outbreak declared in August 2018 which WHO has said will have cost $1 billion by the time it is halted.

(Compiled by Giles Elgood)