New Delhi: The Ebola outbreak witnessed in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been declared a “public emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The announcement of a ‘global emergency’, the highest level of alarm which is given only to the gravest of outbreaks, comes after the deadly viral disease has killed over 1,600 people in Congo. The virus has this week spread to Goma, a city that is home to nearly two million people.

A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though other experts say it has long met the conditions.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a news conference in Geneva while declaring the emergency stated, “It is time for the world to take notice.” He added that the decision was taken with recommendations from his advisory board for emergency provision (PHEIC).

Earlier, the WHO has used the PHIEC provision only four times, during H1N1 swine flu crisis of 2009, poliovirus in 2014, Ebola epidemic in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and during the outbreak of Zika virus in 2016.

The Ebola crisis in Congo erupted in August 2018 affecting two provinces, North Kivu, where it erupted and Ituri from where it has started spreading to other neighbouring areas. It has been reported as the second-largest outbreak in history, with more than 2,500 people infected by the virus.

With PTI inputs