Written by Staff Writer
12 Mar, 2020 | 8:00 am
REUTERS – The World Health Organization described the new coronavirus as a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday, adding that Italy and Iran were now on the frontline of the disease and other countries would soon join them.
“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 characterized as a pandemic,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
He urged the global community to redouble efforts to contain the outbreak, saying aggressive measures could still play a big role to curb it
“This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic. This is the first pandemic that can be controlled,” he later tweeted.
While he acknowledged the characterization did not change what WHO was doing or what countries needed to do, it sounded an alarm the organization has not used so far as the virus spreads.
WHO officials have signaled for weeks that they may use the word “pandemic” as an descriptive term but have stressed that it does not carry legal significance. The WHO no longer has a category for declaring a pandemic, except for influenza. The novel coronavirus is not the flu.
The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December, has spread around the world, halting industry, bringing flights to a standstill, closing schools and forcing the postponement of sporting events and concerts.
The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern, its “highest level of alarm”, on Jan. 30 when there were fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19 outside China and eight cases of human-to-human transmission of the disease.
Now there are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 people have died, Tedros said, with the numbers expected to climb.
In the past two weeks the number of cases outside China had risen 13-fold, and the number of countries affected had tripled, a sombre-looking Tedros said, displaying little of his normally upbeat persona.
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