Wellcome statements on novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Listed on this page are media statements issued by Wellcome in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in Wuhan, China, its spread to other countries and the declaration of a Public Health Emergerncy of International Concern by the World Health Organization.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome said:
"This is an unprecedented outbreak – of a virus never seen before, spreading in a way which makes it extremely challenging to control. We cannot yet predict how grave the impact may be in any country beyond China now seeing cases. We do know the impact this is having in China and should applaud their extraordinary efforts to contain it. We can, however, be sure no country can afford to wait and see. For every country, now is the time to act.

"The only way to get ahead of this epidemic, to ensure the best public health preparation and response and to protect lives globally is to put science and research at the heart of the response. Over the past two days the global effort to further enhance the research agenda has been phenomenal. Thanks to the World Health Organization, to researchers, country governments, industry, journal editors and funders from every country and continent we now have a clear plan of immediate and longer-term priorities to build a robust global response. Crucially there was also unambiguous commitment to solidarity and to equitable access to all advances made.

"We must continue to unite behind this international effort, making sure no country is left behind, and without forgetting the support needed for those continuing to tackle the many other health challenges faced by different communities globally, including Ebola."

Thursday 30 January 2020

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome:
“It is absolutely right to have declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

“Countries, public health teams and researchers worldwide have been acting on this with the very highest level of concern for the last few weeks. But this virus has spread at unprecedented scale and speed, with cases passing between people in multiple countries across the world.

 “Declaration of an international emergency will undoubtedly sharpen governments’ focus on protecting citizens. But we must also step-up as an international community to make sure no one is left behind - with all interventions, including public health measures, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines available to everyone.  This will challenge the best resourced countries  but will have disproportionate impact on fragile health systems in low and middle income countries.

“The virus is certainly spreading person-to-person in those with mild symptoms and possibly in those very early in illness with no symptoms. This makes it extremely challenging to control, and we do not have proven treatments or vaccines. A global epidemic of a rapid-spreading novel respiratory virus like this, which has crossed from animals to humans, is something warned of for many years. It is also a stark reminder of how vulnerable we are to epidemics of infectious diseases known and unknown.

 “Accelerating research, with all data promptly shared through the WHO, is key to saving lives and ending this epidemic. But while clinicians, public health communities and researchers globally continue to work tirelessly to address the many uncertainties and unknowns, robust public health measures are critical.

“Vaccine, treatment and diagnostics trials are underway, but will take time. These need international support and funding. We also need urgently to determine how long people are infectious, how the virus transmits, who is most at risk – as well as ensuring the best caring for all affected.

 “We must commend China for its response, and its commitment to the health of its citizens and the world. The nurses, doctors and other health care workers caring for their patients and communities in difficult and often frightening circumstances deserve all our thanks and support.

“We must all take this very seriously, use the best available evidence to inform policy, be open about uncertainties and support the public health authorities and healthcare workers working non-stop and in very challenging conditions to keep us all safe.”

Thursday 23 January 2020

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome:
"We respect the advice of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee to not declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) today, but this must be kept under constant review. Countries should act now on the recommendations made by the Committee on how best to prepare and respond to this epidemic. There is no need to wait.

"The decision does not change the fact that the urgent focus must remain on identifying the gaps in understanding of this virus, and on a continued robust, coordinated global public health response.

"This outbreak and the speed with which this new virus has spread in China and travelled across borders, is a reminder of how vulnerable we are globally to outbreaks of infectious diseases known and unknown. Travel restrictions may be important in buying time, to signal the seriousness of the situation and may help reduce the impact but are unlikely stop this epidemic. 

"Accelerating research as well as the public health response is key to bringing this under control. We still don’t fully understand how this virus is passing person to person, how and when people are infectious, the full range of clinical symptoms, or know the animal source. We don’t have proven treatments or vaccines.

"This virus has crossed from animals into people. That does not happen often, and it is without doubt, very serious. People are scarred by the memory of SARS, and a global outbreak of a novel respiratory virus like this, is something experts have warned about for many years. 

"But we have also made important progress on epidemic preparedness. In the wake of the West African Ebola crisis, CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) was founded. Today CEPI launched three programmes to speed vaccine research for this new coronavirus, and in China treatments are being tried and the information shared. 

"While much uncertainty remains, it is vital to maintain focus on answering the critical unanswered questions and use the best available evidence to implement the most impactful public health response. This has to have the full support of the international community, be led by China, and co-ordinated by the WHO. This is not just China’s problem, this is for all of us."

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome: 
"This outbreak is extremely concerning. Person-to-person transmission has been confirmed and, as expected, we are seeing rapidly increasing case numbers across China, and in more countries, with health care workers infected. The World Health Organization’s role is to ensure the global public health response to any new outbreak is rapid, robust and comprehensive. Given the geographic spread of cases, calling the Emergency Committee to consider whether to declare an international public health emergency should now be a part of this process.

"The speed with which this virus has been identified is testament to changes in public health in China since SARS and strong global coordination through the WHO. However, we know there is more to come from this outbreak - and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, it is right that concern levels are at the highest level.

"A major concern is the range of severity of symptoms this virus is causing. It is clear some people are being affected and are infectious while experiencing only very mild symptoms or possibly without experiencing symptoms at all (asymptomatic). This may be masking the true numbers infected and the extent of person to person transmission. It is a matter of urgency to work this out.

"The world is much better prepared to identify patients and take the necessary public health and clinical measures, than it was during SARS, nearly two decades ago. However, we still do not understand this virus or the public health and clinical impact. The urgent focus must be on evidence-based interventions. We also do not have proven treatments or vaccines. CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), which Wellcome supports, is now working with global partners to accelerate vaccine research for this new virus."

Saturday 18 January 2020

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome:
"Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it’s clear that there is some level of person to person transmission. We are starting to hear of more cases in China and other countries and it is likely, as this modelling shows, that there will be many more cases, in a number of countries. The speed with which this virus has been identified and the sharing of that information by China, has been amazing, a testament to the changes in public health in China since SARS and the global coordination through the World Health Organization. That has meant that the world is much more prepared to identify patients and take the necessary public health and clinical measures than it was even a week ago.

"It is possible that the often mild symptoms, and probability of people being affected and infectious without experiencing symptoms (asymptomatic), from this coronavirus may be masking the true numbers of people who have been infected, and the extent of person-to-person transmission. It is also probable that we are looking at patients being affected over a number of days from multiple animal sources and with some degree of human to human transmission.

"The speed of response is testimony to improved global preparedness. But we must not be complacent, there is still much to be done to ensure countries across the world are protecting people from epidemic threats of diseases known and unknown.

"Ongoing research, with continued prompt and full data sharing, is vital to ensuring the correct response to this outbreak. Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high. There is more to come from this epidemic."

Dr Mike Turner, Director of Science at Wellcome: 
"We are in the early stages of this outbreak. There has been some excellent and very speedy work by authorities in China and the research results have been made available to the world very rapidly indeed. This is making it easier to monitor the spread of the disease. Despite which, estimates of the size of any outbreak are very difficult to predict at this early stage but it is clearly still spreading. We are all more concerned than we were three days ago. One of the consequences of a more connected world is that outbreaks have to potential to spread internationally much more rapidly than was the case 50 years ago. Whether health screening at airports makes a useful contribution to reducing spread is a moot point."

Thursday 16 January 2020 

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome:
"News of a case in Japan is extremely concerning - but it is not surprising that we are starting to hear of more cases in other countries.  

"It is possible that the often mild symptoms from this coronavirus may be masking the true numbers of people who have been infected, or the extent of person to person transmission. It is probable that we are looking at patients being affected over a number of days from multiple animals sources and with some degree of human to human transmission.  

"Ongoing research, with prompt and full data sharing between the teams now working together across China and globally on building the information, is vital to ensuring the correct response to this outbreak.  

"Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high."

Friday 10 January 2020 

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome: 
"In Wuhan there has not been a new confirmed case for around two weeks and the available evidence does not suggest significant human to human transmission. Both of these are reassuring for now. 

"So far the health authorities in China have shown they are taking a careful and thorough approach, taking the time necessary to carry out thorough tests and to ensure correct diagnosis and not rush to conclusions. This is important because when public health responses are rushed, problems follow – as we saw with early responses to the Nipah outbreak in 1999. 

"But significant information gaps remain. And now this has been identified as a novel coronavirus it is critical, indeed an obligation, to make to make that information available to the world through the recognised mechanism of the WHO so that other countries can be appropriately prepared."

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