World Health Organization declares COVID-19 pandemic

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 — the disease caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 — to be a pandemic.

Although the word "pandemic" only refers to how widely a disease has spread, not how dangerous specific cases are, the WHO noted the need to drive governments to action: "All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO. "We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."

According to Dr. Tom Frieden, formerly the director of the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pandemic is "unprecedented." He said, in remarks published by CNN in February, "[o]ther than influenza, no other respiratory virus has been tracked from emergence to continuous global spread."

Ghebreyesus expressed a similar view, saying "[w]e have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus." He continued, "[a]nd we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time."

The new status as a pandemic follows the WHO's decision in January to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. The United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease's director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said of the outbreak, "[b]ottom line, it's going to get worse."

As of Thursday, Associated Press reported there were at least 126,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, resulting in over 4,600 deaths.