After months of erring on the side of caution, the World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared the deadly coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who heads the U.N. agency, said the WHO is “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the outbreak. He also expressed concern about “the alarming levels of inaction.”
“We have, therefore, made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” he said at a briefing in Geneva.
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” Tedros said.
He said in the days and weeks ahead, they expect to see the number of cases and deaths “climb even higher,” and expressed concern over the levels of “inaction” in some countries.
“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action,” Tedros said. “We have rung the bell loud and clear.”
Tedros stressed that there is still an opportunity for countries to reverse the course of the outbreak if they work to contain the spread.
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” Tedros said. “If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response.”
Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s executive director of emergency operations, warned that inaction could cause health systems to become overwhelmed.
Italy, which has some 10,000 cases, and Iran, which has reported nearly 9,000 illnesses, are among the hardest-hit countries in recent days, but Ryan warned that other regions may not be far behind.
COVID-19 is the first coronavirus to be labeled a pandemic, Tedros said, but added that the health agency believes that it will also be the first to be contained based on the success seen in several countries.