An employee of the virology department of the Charite hospital prepares a test for the new coronavirus in Berlin, Germany.
An employee of the virology department of the Charite hospital prepares a test for the new coronavirus in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 21, 2020.

GENEVA - Experts meeting in emergency session at the World Health Organization have been unable to agree on the global health risks of the new coronavirus, which has sickened more than 500 people and caused at least 17 deaths. The experts have decided to continue their discussions Thursday. 

At the end of daylong marathon discussions on the dangers posed by the new coronavirus, WHO experts have remained split on whether the virus poses a global health risk demanding stringent measures to control.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the experts for their excellent discussions, but said it is clear that more information is needed to proceed.

“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence,” Tedros said. “Our team is on the ground with China, as we speak, working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak and get more information.”

FILE - Medical staff carry a box as they walk at the Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Jan. 10, 2020.

Tedros said he is following China’s decision to close down public transport in the Chinese city of Wuhan to try to stop the outbreak from spreading. The coronavirus was detected in Wuhan three weeks ago. Tedros said he is in daily contact with Chinese authorities.

“What they are doing is a very, very strong measure and with full commitment,” Tedros said. “So, based on the situation, taking the action that they think is appropriate is very important. We stressed to them that by having a strong action, not only they will control the outbreak in their country, but they will also minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally.”

The disease is mainly transmitted from animals to humans, but scientists have ascertained that there is limited human-to-human transmission. The health experts who will reconvene Thursday at WHO headquarters are warning people to avoid coming in close contact with people suspected of carrying the virus.