The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday declared the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, finally acknowledging what many have feared for some time, namely that the virus will likely spread to all countries on the globe.
“We expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
At the time of writing, the global infection count stood at 126,380, with 4,634 casualties and 68,313 who have recovered from the disease. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump announced that the United States has instituted a 30-day ban on travel from Europe beginning midnight on Friday with the exception of the United Kingdom.
In the United States, where state and local laboratories could not test for the virus for weeks, just over 1,000 cases have been diagnosed and 29 people have died.
But authorities here warn continuing limits on testing mean the full scale of spread in this country is not yet known.
WHO officials had said earlier they were hesitant to call the outbreak a pandemic in case it led governments and individuals to give up the fight. On Wednesday, they stressed that fundamental public health interventions can still limit the spread of the virus and drive down cases even where it was transmitting widely, as the examples of China, Singapore, and South Korea have 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. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
“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, adding that “we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled.”
Title image: Workers wearing protective gears disinfect as a precaution against the new coronavirus at the subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Kim Sun-woong/Newsis via AP)