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Watch: WHO officials hold news conference on the coronavirus outbreak

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is expected Wednesday to confirm whether the mysterious coronavirus that has killed at least 17 people and sickened hundreds of others in China is a global health emergency and make recommendations on how to contain the outbreak.

The World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting of international health experts in Geneva to discuss the virus earlier Wednesday.

The emergency meeting comes a day after public health officials confirmed the first U.S. case of the virus and two days after health officials said that the respiratory illness, which has evoked memories of the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, is capable of spreading from person to person. Over the weekend, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security began screening people traveling to the United States from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is believed to have started.

WHO doesn’t enact these emergencies easily, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. The international health agency has only applied the emergency designation five times since the rules were implemented in the mid-2000s.

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