The World Health Organization has, for the first time, called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
The WHO had previously resisted the term, but in an update today said: “We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of #COVID19 outside China has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled.
“There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, & 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.
“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time.”
Dr Tedros stressed that the true severity of the pandemic will depend on how each country responds.
He said: “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.
“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilise their people in the response, those with a handful of COVID-19 cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.
“Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this coronavirus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large #COVID19 clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will.”