Updated – WHO declares Coronavirus a pandemic

Picture used to illustrate Coronavirus story
Picture used to illustrate Coronavirus story

The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak was, on Wednesday, classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

The WHO chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus, during a briefing on the status of the disease in Geneva, said the declaration was made after careful assessment of the outbreak and severity of its spread across the world.

Mr Ghebreyesus said coronavirus has now attained an alarming status and therefore can be referred to as a pandemic situation.

Public threat

The UN health agency had earlier in January declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern as cases gradually spiked across countries.

The disease, which originated from China, has spread to all the continents except Antarctica.

Mr Ghebreyesus said that “in the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.

As of Wednesday,” there are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.

He said thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.


WHO said it made the decision to classify the outbreak as a pandemic because of the alarming levels of spread and its severity.

“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” Mr Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO chief had warned Tuesday the threat of the killer infection triggering a worldwide pandemic is now ‘very real’.

He said WHO has been “assessing the 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.”

“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” Mr Ghebreyesus said.

He explained that pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.

“It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

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“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus,” he said.

The specific definition of a pandemic is not universally agreed upon, but there are three main criteria – sustained person-to-person transmission, evidence of world-wide spread and a disease that can cause sudden illness or death.

Meanwhile, Mr Ghebreyesus said more cases are expected to be reported in the days to come. “And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time,” he added.

“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 UN health agency said some countries are not taking enough action to manage epidemics.

While the number of new cases being diagnosed in China is now falling, outbreaks are surging elsewhere in the world, particularly in Europe and Iran.

As of this afternoon, 11 African countries, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, Cameron, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Morocco have all witnessed at least a case of the disease.

So far, 81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less.

However, new countries are still expected to report cases and more new cases in some countries which have reported at least a case.

WHO lamented that while the organisation has been in full response mode since it got notified of the first cases, some countries are still yet unprepared.

“And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.

“As I said on Monday, just looking at the number of cases and the number of countries affected does not tell the full story.

“Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those – China and the Republic of Korea – have significantly declining epidemics,” Mr Ghebreyesus said.


Mr Ghebreyesus assured the world that the course of the disease can still be changed if all hands are on deck.

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.

“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.”

Mr Ghebreyesus, however, said some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity, resources and resolve.

“All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights,” he said.


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