WHO says advance squad already in China to fight novel coronavirus

Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb 6, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)

GENEVA -- The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday that an advance squad of the WHO-led team of international experts had already arrived in China to lay the groundwork for the rest of team members who will cooperate with their Chinese counterparts against the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The advance squad was led by Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and a "veteran of past public health emergencies," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding that Aylward will be working with his Chinese counterparts to make sure "we have the right expertise on the team to answer the right questions."

The WHO chief said that the rest of the team will join them as soon as possible, which will make it a whole team of probably 10 experts.

"The team has been fully empowered by the WHO," Tedros added, "these are experienced people, and they know what to do. We want them to be really free empowered and see things for themselves."

Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said that the team is a joint WHO-China mission to bring the best of science and public health minds from both China and the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, the WHO is to convene a global research and innovation forum on Tuesday and Wednesday to mobilize international action in response to the novel coronavirus.

"Bringing everybody together will give us a leapfrog moment in terms of coherence, priority setting, and the setting that roadmap, so that we all travel that road together in the coming months," Ryan said.