European response to the novel Coronavirus outbreak in China

Published on


Press Release

Antwerp, Belgium – 21 January 2020.

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) China office learned of patients infected with pneumonia of an unknown aetiology in Wuhan, China. Evidence suggested that the initial cluster of cases was related to exposure in a seafood market in Wuhan (closed 1 January 2020). In the three weeks since, numbers have escalated to 222 confirmed cases (218 in China, two in Thailand, one in Japan, and one in South Korea), with six deaths related to the outbreak – the most recent occurring on 21 January. The cause of this outbreak has been identified as a novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The first genetic sequence of the 2019-nCoV was shared on 12 January, aiding the rapid development of diagnostic kits, which are instrumental in preparing for and responding to outbreaks. WHO has since confirmed clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the 2019-nCoV, with some suggestion of sustained transmission. 

The start of Lunar New Year holiday will involve significant population movement within China and across its borders, exacerbating the potential for the virus to spread. On 22 January, the Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, convened an Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to ascertain whether the 2019-nCoV outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International concern.

These events have triggered an assessment of the level of preparedness of clinical research networks supported by the EC to ensure prompt clinical research in response to new infectious disease outbreaks. These networks include the Platform for European Preparedness Against (Re-) emerging Epidemics (PREPARE), the IMI-funded projects COMBACTE and VALUE-Dx, and many others currently collaborating with the European Clinical Research Alliance for Infectious Diseases. (ECRAID, see www.ecraid.eu). 

How PREPARE is responding:

PREPARE is verifying its readiness to respond if the 2019-nCoV outbreak spreads to Europe. These preparations are proportionate to the current relatively low risk for European citizens (operating in outbreak response mode 1 – preparedness). Activities are being planned and conducted in close collaboration with partner networks and the EC, and in alignment with those of WHO and ECDC. PREPARE will circulate a paper and electronic Case Record Form (CRF), developed by WHO and ISARIC, throughout its network of hospitals (1,000+ in 42 European countries). This CRF will allow for a standardised collection of clinical data that can contribute to a better understanding of this new disease. Moreover, the WHO is currently discussing clinical observational and intervention studies. PREPARE will align with these protocols and can rapidly activate its network of hospitals and primary care physicians if required. PREPARE is also assessing the capacity and capability of over 900 diagnostic labs in its European network to detect the new coronavirus. Should PREPARE need to initiate large clinical studies, our first-line diagnostic labs should be able to detect the 2019-nCoV. 

The standing PREPARE Outbreak Mode Committee continues to monitor the events closely to ensure PREPARE’s clinical research response remains aligned with the risk to health and security of European citizens.

Contact person

Herman Goossens, MD, PhD
Coordinator of the PREPARE Project - Laboratory of Medical Microbiology
Universiteitsplein 1 - B-2610 Antwerp - Belgium
Herman.Goossens@uza.be / +32 475 327344

About PREPARE

Funded by the European Commission (2014 – 2021), PREPARE is building a European clinical research network covering primary care and hospital care in all EU Member States.