The World Health Organization is now calling COVID-19 a pandemic.
The word “pandemic” is frightening and loosely defined. WHO has described the term as “the worldwide spread of a new disease,” but since the end of January, the group had used other words to characterize the spread of the new coronavirus. This changed today, and while WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that using the term “does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus,” the move puts new pressure on government officials to take action, effectively cranking up the alarm bells for all to hear.
Here are four takeaways from Tedros’s comments to the media this morning.
- Don’t just look at the top-line numbers: Doing so “does not tell the full story,” the director-general said. “Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those—China and the Republic of Korea—have significantly declining epidemics. 81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less.”
- Praise for countries taking significant action: Tedros said WHO is “grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy, and the Republic of Korea to slow the virus and control their epidemics.” Italy, for example, imposed a nationwide lockdown this week, severely restricting residents’ ability to travel and banning social gatherings.
- Pressure on governments to do more: Tedros called on countries to “strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.” He also said, “The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same—it’s whether they will.”
- There’s still time to prevent the worst: “We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough,” said Tedros. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.” Tedros described the pandemic as one “that can be controlled,” and while the term “pandemic” itself may have captured the most attention, the director-general called for “calm” as well as action. “We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.”
You can read Tedros’s full remarks here.