Feb. 4 (UPI) -- World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has asked public health officials in countries impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus to improve data-sharing in response to the outbreak.
Ghebreyesus announced during a meeting of the WHO's executive board on Tuesday that he had sent letters to the relevant agencies in each of the 23 countries with confirmed cases of the virus known as 2019 n-CoV.
The agency also said the cost of response to the new coronavirus, for the next three months, is estimated at just under $700 million. Another report put the potential economic cost of the outbreak, for just China, at more than $60 billion, illustrating that the costs of 2019 n-CoV go well beyond just treating patients.
In the United States, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have acknowledged that their counterparts in China had been proactive in sharing information on the virus genome -- which can be used as a starting point in the development of drugs and vaccines against it -- with other countries in early January.
However, they have also implied that the Chinese government has been reluctant to allow U.S. health experts to visit the country to observe or assist outbreak response.
On Tuesday, though, Ghebreyesus reiterated the WHO's plan to send a team of international experts to work with Chinese responders. Exactly when that team will be on the ground is still to be determined.
Whether or not other countries are eventually able to work directly in China, the outbreak response is already projected to be an expensive proposition. WHO officials estimate that the overall public health cost of outbreak response in February, March and April will be $675 million.
Their cost estimates were announced on the heels of a report from financial publication Learn Bonds, which has pegged the total economic toll of the ongoing outbreak in China at $62 billion, or about 2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, for the first quarter of 2020 alone.
If accurate, that would make 2019 n-CoV the most expensive infectious disease outbreak of the past 20 years. To compare, the economic impact of the 2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa was $53 billion.
According to reports, China has already spent approximately $12.6 billion on outbreak response.
The meeting of the executive board of the WHO was previously scheduled, and has dealt with other issues beyond the 2019 n-CoV outbreak.