WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Wednesday evening, 11 March 2020, that as the number of cases of COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) have increased by 13 times in the past fortnight, the situation is now officially a pandemic.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” said Ghebreyesus.
“WHO has been assessing this 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 characterized as a pandemic.”
What’s the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?
An epidemic usually refers to an outbreak of a disease that is out of control and spreading beyond a town to a wider area, affecting more people than a simple ‘outbreak’.
A pandemic describes when the disease is affecting an entire country or the whole world.
Focus on People, not the Pandemic
Ghebreyesus said today: “There’s been so much attention on one word. Let me give you some other words that matter much more, & that are much more actionable: Prevention. Preparedness. Public health. Political leadership. And most of all, People.”
He recommended that “all countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic & social disruption & respecting human rights.”
The WHO chief reminded all countries that WHO is calling on them to:
- activate and scale up their emergency response mechanisms – “communicate with your people about the risks & how they can protect themselves -find, isolate, test & treat every #COVID19 case & trace every contact.”
- ready their hospitals – “protect and train your #healthworkers – let’s all look out for each other.”
Gratitude for those countries fighting the virus
Ghebreyesus said: “We are grateful for the measures being taken Iran, Italy and South Korea to slow the virus and control their #COVID19 epidemics.
“We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.”
He said some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity or resolve, and that even those countries with large clusters CAN turn the tide on coronavirus.
“Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of #COVID19 cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.” (So far South Africa appears to have this under control – here’s the latest update on South African cases of coronavirus.)
The good news about the Coronavirus pandemic
Ghebreyesus announced that 81 countries have not reported any Covid-19 cases, and 57 countries have reported only 10 cases or less. (South Africa only slightly surpasses this at 13 Covid-19 cases.)
He stressed again: “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”
Of the 118,000 Covid-19 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those – China and South Korea (where major lockdowns have taken place) – have significantly declining epidemics.
Ghebreyesus said that the WHO has been calling for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” he said, adding, “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus.
“And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time.”
He reiterated that: “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this #coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
“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.”
Most importantly, the WHO chief said: “We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.”