Coronavirus Is Officially a Pandemic: Here’s What That Means

The coronavirus outbreak has reached a critical inflection point, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In making the declaration, WHO noted it had not chosen to use the term “lightly or carelessly”; the organization describes a “pandemic” as the “worldwide spread of a new disease.”

“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 fights,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said at a media briefing today.

Despite containment efforts, eight countries, including the United States, are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected more than 120,000 people around the world. That said, worse may be yet to come. Citing the rising death toll from the respiratory virus, Tedros said, “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.”

The director-general went on to say that WHO is “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction [by the world’s leaders in response to the outbreak]. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”

He stressed, however, that people should remain calm while not underestimating the growing threat. “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by the virus,” Tedros said. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing. And it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

He said he believes the spread of the virus can still be controlled. “If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of COVID-19 cases can prevent those cases [from] becoming clusters, and those clusters [from] becoming community transmission,” he explained.

The last time the WHO declared a pandemic was during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, which sickened nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

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