Morning Brief

WHO Could Declare Wuhan Coronavirus a Global Emergency

With a new respiratory illness spreading in China and beyond, the World Health Organization has called an expert panel to meet today.

People wearing face masks walk in Hankou railway station in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 21.
People wearing face masks walk in Hankou railway station in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 21. -/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: A WHO expert committee meets over the Wuhan coronavirus, the Trump administration has plans to expand its travel ban, and what’s ahead at day two of Davos.

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WHO Panel Meets Over Wuhan Coronavirus

An expert committee convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) will decide today whether to declare an international emergency over the new respiratory coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China. Chinese officials will attend. The meeting comes just days ahead of the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel to visit their families—raising fears of a bigger contagion. Six people have died and nearly 300 cases have been confirmed within China.

The first case of the Wuhan coronavirus in the United States was confirmed on Tuesday: A traveler who had flown to Seattle from China and was reported to be in good condition. Similar imported cases have been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, leading countries to increase screening of travelers from China and use precautionary quarantines. Stocks fell after the announcement of the U.S. case.

Taking precautions. The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has raised fears because it belongs to the same family as the SARS virus, which killed nearly 800 people in 2002-03. Some countries in the region have taken further precautionary measures. A South Korean airline has postponed the launch of a flight route to Wuhan, and North Korea temporarily suspended foreign tourism today, according to a tour company. Hong Kong has implemented a public health plan.

What will China do? The biggest risk remains how the Chinese government will handle the outbreak, particularly around the Lunar New Year, as FP’s James Palmer explains. “Opinions differ sharply on how much the Chinese government has learned from SARS,” he writes. China’s leadership has said it won’t tolerate anyone hiding cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, and it will participate in today’s meeting with the WHO.

What We’re Following Today

Trump could expand travel ban. The Trump administration soon plans to add seven countries—Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania—to its travel ban list, Politico reports. While the list isn’t final and it isn’t clear whether the restrictions would apply to all citizens of those countries, the announcement will likely strain relations between the United States and the affected countries. Trump signed the original travel ban, which included seven Muslim-majority countries, shortly after taking office in Jan. 2017. It has been modified after court challenges.

Davos, day two. The annual World Economic Forum meeting continues in Davos, Switzerland, today, after U.S. President Donald Trump used his keynote address to tout U.S. economic successes, dismiss climate activists, and threaten Europe with tariffs. Today Trump is expected to meet with Iraqi President Barham Salih and, separately, Kurdistan Regional Government leader Nechirvan Barzani on the sidelines. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will speak today.

Lebanon forms new government. On Tuesday, Lebanon broke its political deadlock to form a new government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab, with the backing of the Shiite group Hezbollah. Lebanon has had an interim government since October, when Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned amid mass protests against the political elite. The government is charged with rectifying the country’s immediate economic crisis, which has again driven people into the streets. With Hezbollah’s backing, Diab could struggle to win foreign support.

Keep an Eye On

Black boxes in Tehran. Iran and Canada are at odds over the flight recorders from the Ukrainian plane mistakenly shot down near Tehran, killing 176 people—including 57 Canadians. On Tuesday, Iranian officials said they had asked for the technology to download information from the black boxes rather than send them to Ukraine, as they had previously stated. The delay is likely to increase international pressure on Iran.

Guaidó’s trip to Europe. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday as part of a show of support from the U.K. government. Back in Caracas, secret service agents raided his offices and blocked opposition lawmakers from entering. Guaidó, who is also expected at Davos, is seeking extra EU pressure against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

India’s citizenship law. India’s Supreme Court is considering challenges to the country’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Those challenging the law, backed by thousands of protesters, say it violates the country’s secular constitution.

Odds and Ends

Officials in Suzhou, China, used facial recognition software to publicly shame seven people wearing pajamas in public on Monday, sparking rare public outrage over widespread surveillance techniques. (The authorities were given facial recognition tools to monitor “uncivilized behavior.”) Wearing pajamas in public is common in China, though local authorities have tried to ban the practice before.

Two art thieves in Italy have confessed to stealing a painting by Gustav Klimt from a gallery in Piacenza—and then returning it. The artwork, worth around $66.5 million, was stolen in 1997 but the thieves said they hid it four years ago in a wall in the gallery, where it was found in December. The pair, believed to be involved in dozens of similar crimes, had previously confessed but authorities did not believe them.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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