GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, as the new coronavirus has rapidly spread to more than 121,000 people across the world.
In a meeting at the agency’s headquarters, the WHO pointed to the over 118,000 cases of the coronavirus illness in over 110 countries and territories around the world and the sustained risk of further global spread.
“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, at a media briefing. “So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”
An epidemic refers to an uptick in the spread of a disease within a specific community. By contrast, the WHO defines a pandemic as global spread of a new disease, though the specific threshold for meeting that criteria are unclear.
“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”-@DrTedros#COVID19
WHO officials earlier maintained that COVID-19 had “pandemic potential,” but stopped short of declaring it one. In January, the agency called it a public health emergency of international concern. This refers to an “extraordinary event” that “constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease.”
“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,” said Dr. Tedros on Wednesday.
“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.”
The WHO last used the label during the 2009 H1N1 (or “swine flu”) outbreak, but received criticism as experts argued that the situation was not serious enough to warrant a pandemic declaration and caused unnecessary panic and precautions.