Mysterious deaths from an unidentified disease with unknown origins
Retrospective investigations by Chinese authorities due to reports that people were taken ill mysteriously identified human cases with onset of symptoms as early as December 8 (shockingly, a study by the National Cancer Institute in Milan in November 2020 implied that the diseases circulated Italy undetected as early as September 2019).
On December 30, Wuhan CDC issued emergency notices to local hospitals about a group of unaccountable pneumonia cases discovered in the city in the previous week. On the same day, Li Wenliang, dubbed unfortunately as the whistleblower doctor, obtained an internal diagnostic report of SARS patient from other doctors and shared it with his friends requesting anonymity. On December 31, Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported a group of pneumonia cases in Wuhan to the WHO China Country Office.
Official identification, verification and quick spread of a novel disease worrying the world
The month began with the formation of the Incident Management Support Team (IMST) across WHO's three organization levels including its HQ, regional office, and country office creating an emergency status for the outbreak. Three days later, WHO shared a Twitter post referring to a cluster of pneumonia cases with no deaths in Wuhan, Hubei repeating the cause of the disease as still unclear. On January 5, WHO issued its first Outbreak News as a preliminary technical disclosure to the scientific community, health establishments, and international media referring to a Wuhan cluster of 44 patients, eleven of whom were severely ill.
On January 10, WHO issued a comprehensive technical guidance package with advice to all countries on how to detect, test, and manage potential cases, based on what was known about the virus at the time. This guidance was imparted to WHO's regional emergency directors to be conveyed to WHO delegates in nations. In view of involvement in SARS and MERS and known transmission of respiratory infections, disease and counteraction control guidance were distributed to ensure health workers' well-being suggesting droplet and contact safeguards when caring for patients and airborne precautionary measures for aerosol-generating procedures led by them.
On January 12, WHO declared that it received the genetic sequence of a new disease from the Chinese officials and made the first official announcement of the nCoV (novel coronavirus or Covid-19) after its isolation and identification by the Chinese authorities on January 7. On January 13, Thailand became the first state to announce a coronavirus case outside China after officials identified at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) a female Chinese passenger aged 61, who traveled from Wuhan, China, on January 8, together with five family members. On January 14, WHO's technical officer in charge of the response referred to the probability of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus (and offered evidence on January 22), chiefly through family members, and a possible broader outbreak. On January 23, the WHO Director-General gathered an Emergency Committee (EC) under the IHR 2005 to evaluate whether the outbreak comprised a health emergency of worldwide concern, but the independent members from around the globe failed to arrive at a consensus according to the evidence accessible at that point.
WHO rings the alarm bells one month after the first official reporting as the virus infects 7,818 people and spreads to 18 countries
On January 30, the EC reconvened earlier than the 10-day period and only two days after the first reports of limited human-to-human transmission outside China, reaching a consensus that the outbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The Director-General declared the 6th PHEIC with the 2019-nCoV since the IHR entered into force in June 2007. Also, WHO's situation report listed 7,818 total confirmed cases worldwide, almost 99% of which were in China, referred to a sheer 82 cases in 18 other countries and gave a risk assessment of very high for China, and high at the global level.
WHO released the international community's Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan on February 3 to help protect states with more limited health infrastructures and brought together more than 300 experts and funders in the Covid-19 Research and Innovation Forum on February 12. The WHO-China Joint mission comprising 25 specialists from the People's Republic of China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Singapore, the US visited Beijing and made a trip to Wuhan and two other cities before the issuance of a joint report.
On March 11, WHO emphasized that it had never before observed a pandemic triggered by a coronavirus and characterized Covid-19 as a pandemic due to the alarming levels of its spread and severity as well as inaction across the world.
The entire world has been striving to prevent Covid-19 infections to almost no avail through more testing and other measures as per the guidance from WHO and respective public authorities until the announcement of two remarkable vaccine developments by Moderna and Pfizer, which collaborated with BioNTech from Germany. Other follows from Russia and China follow suit.