The World Health Organization today said the covid-19 outbreak caused by coronavirus is now classed as a pandemic.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference. “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity. We have therefore made the assessment that covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”
The WHO had been reluctant to declare a pandemic up until now. There is no universally agreed definition of when a disease outbreak should be called a pandemic, but three criteria generally need to be met. It needs to cause disease or death, there must be sustained transmission between people and it must be spreading in multiple countries.
As of 11 March, there are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and more than 4000 people have died, Tedros said. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, deaths and affected countries climb even higher.”
Tedros said that two countries, China and South Korea, had managed to change the course of their outbreaks. The number of cases in South Korea began plateauing in the past week, and case numbers in China have been doing the same since mid-February, due to the countries’ drastic containment measures. “Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this coronavirus,” said Tedros.
But he also said in some places there were alarming levels of inaction. “Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”