On Wednesday 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the rapidly spreading epidemic of coronavirus a pandemic, confirming what has been evidently seemed clear for some time — the virus is likely to spread to all countries around the world. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the situation will worsen.
Tedros director-general said “We expect the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of countries affected to climb much higher”. As of Wednesday, 114 countries announced that 118,000 had contracted the virus-caused disease Covid-19, known as SARS-CoV2. Around 4,300 people have died till date.
Tedros said Wednesday “We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic”.
The virus, which possibly originated in bats but spread through an unrecognized intermediate animal species to humans, is thought to have started infecting people in late November or early December in Wuhan, China. The virus has now spread across the globe.
China appears on the verge of stopping its outbreak — it only registered 24 cases on Tuesday — outbreaks are occurring and increasing in a variety of locations around the world including Italy, Iran, and the United States.
South Korea, which has reported nearly 8,000 cases, still seems equipped with vigorous steps and extensive monitoring to get its outbreak under control. But other countries have failed to follow China and South Korea’s lead — a fact that has frustrated WHO officials who have exhorted the world to do whatever they can to stop the virus transmission.
Tedros used the fact that in four countries 90 per cent of the total cases were registered as evidence that the rest of the world still had time to avoid an an explosion of cases with action.
WHO officials have emphasized the need for countries to pursue a strategic combination of both containment and mitigation measures. The former includes attempting to identify and avoid established transmission chains by isolating cases and tracking their connections, and possibly quarantining them. Mitigation involves steps at community level such as social distance and comes into play when the virus spreads more broadly and transmission chains can’t be tracked. They dismissed questions that such measures are too expensive or resource-intensive, considering what countries could face if they do not slow the disease spread.
In the US, where state and local labs were unable to monitor for the virus for weeks, just over 1,000 cases were identified and 29 people died. But authorities here warn continuing limitations on testing means the full extent of spread in this country is not yet known. In around 80 percent of those infected, the virus causes moderate respiratory infections, but about half may have pneumonia. Another 15% develop severe illness, and 5% need critical care.
WHO officials had previously said they refused to term the outbreak a pandemic in the event it caused governments and individuals to give up the fight. They emphasized on Wednesday that fundamental public health measures can still restrict the spread of the virus and push cases down even where it has been widely transmitted, as the work of authorities and communities in China, Singapore and South Korea has shown.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus,” Tedros said at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, in making the announcement. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
At the same time, Tedros said: “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector — so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.” Tedros said this was the first coronavirus to reach pandemic levels, but also said “we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled.”
Tedros at one point spoke of a lack in some countries of resources, capacity, and resolve. WHO officials have argued for weeks that some countries were not moving rapidly enough to prepare for an outbreak or responding aggressively enough.