In an alarming statement, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned today there are now more new infections of the COVID-19 coronavirus occurring outside of China than inside. That suggests the disease is rapidly spreading across new countries. In remarks today, Ghebreyesus said (via The Guardian):
Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time. The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning. There are now cases linked to Iran in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman. There are now cases linked to Italy in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.
And it gets worse: Since the infections in the countries Ghebreyesus stated, new infections have occurred in Greece and Brazil. The Brazilian infection is the first reported case of the coronavirus in South America, and, as Business Insider points out, it now means the virus has reached every continent except Antarctica. More worrying: A man died in Paris overnight, yet authorities say the man did not travel to China or northern Italy, which currently has the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe.
So is it time to declare a pandemic? Not yet, says Ghebreyesus:
The increase in cases outside China has prompted some media and politicians to push for a pandemic to be declared. We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts. WHO has already declared a public health emergency of international concern—our highest level of alarm.
Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems. It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true. We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things.