Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak

31 January 2020

On 30 January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the current outbreak of 2019-nCoV constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The declaration followed a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee regarding the 2019-nCoV outbreak in the People’s Republic of China, with exportations to other countries. It is considered that the 2019-nCoV outbreak has met the conditions for a WHO Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)[1].

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has been closely monitoring recent developments regarding the 2019-nCoV outbreak. Following the 30 January meeting of the Emergency Committee, the WCO has been liaising with the WHO to ensure WCO Members with public health and safety responsibilities are properly informed about the situation and are involved in national response strategies.

At the level of borders, many WCO Members play an important role in national response strategies to mitigate epidemic-related public health and safety risks. Customs administrations are often countries’ “first and last lines of defence”, and Customs officers are among the first government authorities to meet travellers and crew members on board arriving vessels, aircraft, and other types of transport. In this context, it is of utmost importance that Customs administrations with health and safety responsibilities are adequately integrated as part of the preparedness and preresponse mechanisms.

The WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available. Members are invited to consult the Updated WHO advice for international traffic in relation to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV issued on 27 January 2020.

The WCO will keep a close watch on the 2019-nCoV outbreak and the associated travel- and trade-related developments in this regard.

[1] The term “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) is defined in the International Health Regulations as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”. This definition implies a situation that is: i) serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected; ii) carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border; and iii) may require immediate international action.