THE World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency as a new deadly strain of coronavirus that came from China spread to at least 18 other countries, including the Philippines.

“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a speech uploaded on the WHO website.

At least 170 people have died in China and almost 8,000 have been infected, 99% of them in China, according to the WHO.

There were 82 cases in 18 countries. Eight of these were human-to-human transmissions in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the US.

Meanwhile, the National Health Commission of China said in a statement the number of confirmed cases in mainland China rose to 9,692 as of midnight of Jan. 30 with 213 deaths.

The commission also said there were 4,812 new suspected cases as of Jan. 30, bringing the total to 15,238.

Mr. Ghebreyesus said countries with weaker health systems must be supported, while all countries should “work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation.”

WHO also said health authorities must quicken the development of vaccines, while combating misinformation, reviewing preparedness plans and sharing data and knowledge.

The agency said there was no reason to enforce policies that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”

The Philippines had 31 people under investigation for the deadly coronavirus strain. A Chinese national from Wuhan City was the first confirmed case of the new virus in the Philippines.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has issued a circular mandating all public utility vehicle drivers and conductors to wear face masks at all times.

The Maritime Industry Authority also said it had advised ship owners and operators to take measures to monitor the virus.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte had agreed to impose a temporary travel ban on foreign nationals from Hubei province, Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go, his former aide, said in a statement.

Malacañang should appoint Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III as the official spokesman on matters related to the new virus to avoid the spread of fake news, Senator Nancy S. Binay said in a statement.

“I appeal to the President to appoint only one official spokesperson and only one voice who will regularly update the public of the latest developments,” she said.

The Foreign Affairs department was also ready to take Filipinos in the Chinese province home.

“Filipinos in Wuhan City and the rest of Hubei province will be afforded priority in the first batch of repatriates,” it said in a separate statement late Thursday.

House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano reiterated that the Health department should start using its funds to to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus/

“We now urge the Department of Health to use their available funds to implement the necessary contingency measures to ensure that all our medical facilities and hospitals are equipped and ready to attend to the needs of the Filipino people,” he said in a Facebook post. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Arjay L. Balinbin, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Genshen L. Espedido