Home International COVID-19 ‘can be characterised as a pandemic’: WHO chief

COVID-19 ‘can be characterised as a pandemic’: WHO chief

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GENEVA: The new coronavirus outbreak can now be characterised as a pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday (Mar 11), adding that Italy and Iran were now in the frontline of the disease and other countries would soon join them.

"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," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

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He urged the global community to redouble efforts to contain the outbreak, saying aggressive measures could still play a big role to curb the pandemic.

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies programme, said the situation in Iran was "very serious" and the agency would like to see more surveillance and more care for the sick.

READ: Iran announces 63 new virus deaths, taking total to 354

The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December, has spread around the world, halting industry, bringing flights to a standstill, closing schools and forcing the postponement of sporting events and concerts.

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The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern, its "highest level of alarm", on Jan 30 when there were fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19 outside China and eight cases of human-to-human transmission of the disease.

READ China's new COVID-19 cases rise on infections from abroad

Now there are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 people have died, Tedros said, with the numbers expected to climb.

The WHO no longer has a category for declaring a pandemic, except for influenza.

WHO officials have signalled for weeks that they may use the word "pandemic" as an descriptive term but stressed that it does not carry legal significance. The novel coronavirus is not the flu.

Under its previous system, the Geneva-based agency declared the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak a pandemic. It turned out to be mild, leading to some criticism after pharmaceutical companies rushed development of vaccines and drugs.

Ryan said the experience with influenza led many people to the false conclusion that a pandemic is uncontrollable once it starts.

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