The worldwide coronavirus is a pandemic, the World Health Organization announced today. More than 118,000 cases of COVID-19, the virus-caused disease, currently exist in 114 countries around the world.
During the announcement, the WHO continues to track closely the spread of the virus, said Tedros Adhanom, WHO’s general manager.
“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said. “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.”
Italy, South Korea, and the United States have significant outbreaks of the virus. The slow rollout of research and insufficient resources for testing in the US has crippled the response to the disease.
The virus spread is still controllable, Adhanom said. He pointed both to China and to South Korea, where outbreaks appear to decrease. “It’s doable.”
According to the WHO, a pandemic is the “worldwide spread of a new disease.” There are no clear-cut guidelines for what exceeds the pandemic stage and what does not, and the term is not specific to a number of cases or deaths.
On 30 January, the WHO identified the novel coronavirus as a global emergency for public health. Until now, they have been hesitant to call the outbreak a pandemic because of fears that it will cause undue panic, despite urging countries to plan for a pandemic.
“Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear,” Adhanom said at a press briefing at the end of February. “What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world affecting different countries in different ways.”
Countries around the world, including in the US, have already relied on plans for pandemic preparedness to respond to new coronavirus outbreaks.
The WHO last reported a pandemic was during the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, which affected about a quarter of the world’s population. The decision, however, had been criticized for causing needless panic. Despite affecting citizens in 26 nations, SARS was not considered a pandemic, nor was MERS.