WHO declares novel coronavirus a pandemic

Agence France-Presse
WHO declares novel coronavirus a pandemic
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters on March 11, 2020 in Geneva. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on March 11, 2020 that the new coronavirus outbreak can now be characterised as a pandemic.
AFP / Fabrice Coffrini

GENEVA, Switzerland (Updated 8:33 a.m., March 12)—Three months following its discovery, the novel coronavirus spreading across the globe has reached pandemic level, a characterization the World Health Organization (WHO) finally made on Wednesday as infections rise past 100,000.

"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," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

"We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic," he added.

The declaration came as global health officials reported around 114,000 cases of infections covering 114 countries. More than 90% of cases were recorded in four countries including China, where the virus started spreading, and South Korea where more than 200,000 individuals had tested positive for the virus causing coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).

"We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus," the WHO chief said.

Global health experts are currently scrambling to develop a vaccine on the new pathogen of coronavirus, a family of viruses that causes respiratory infections typically characterized by cough and colds.

In COVID-19, WHO said recorded symptoms included fever, tiredness and dry cough, while some patients may experience nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. "These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually," WHO said in its Q&A on COVID-19 posted on its website.

What is a pandemic?

"Pandemic" itself is a loosely defined term, but can "can cause unreasonable fear" as Tedros recognized on his statement. That, and the backlash WHO suffered in the past for hastily making such declarations on diseases that appeared easily contained like H1N1 swine flu, prompted the multilateral agency to be more careful on assessing the spread of coronavirus.

A turning point for WHO was a supposed "inaction" on many jurisdictions to control the outbreak. "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," Tedros said.

Formally, what a pandemic designation does is to call for swift and stronger coordination among countries and stop the spread of infection. It also calls on governments to have proper and effective risk communication plan before, after and during the pandemic.

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