WHO characterizes COVID-19 outbreak as pandemic, urging action

11:40, 12 March

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that the COVID-19 outbreak can be characterized as a "pandemic" as the virus spreads increasingly worldwide.

"We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

Tedros said the WHO is "deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, as well as by the alarming levels of inaction."

He urged the international community to take urgent and aggressive action to contain the pandemic.

There are now more than 118,000 confirmed cases in 114 countries and regions, and 4,291 people have lost their lives, he said, noting that the number of coronavirus cases, deaths, as well as affected countries is expected to climb even higher in the days and weeks ahead.

"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," the WHO chief said, stressing "all countries can still change the course of this pandemic."

Thanks to the arduous efforts of the Chinese government and people, China's prevention and control has achieved progress with daily new confirmed cases declining from thousands to 24 on Tuesday. Beijing has also sent medical teams to other countries to help contain the virus spread.

However, cases of infection have been rising rapidly in Europe and other parts of the world, with Italy being the hardest-hit country.

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy has surged past 12,000 as of Wednesday, despite its drastic measure of locking down the entire country.

Answering a question from Xinhua during Wednesday's conference, Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said pandemic "is a characterization or description of the situation." He denied that such a move would trigger anything other than more aggressive and intensive action.

The WHO has made many internal and external consultations in assessing the use of the word "pandemic" as a characterization of COVID-19, he added, warning against the danger of using the word to make people give up rather than act.

Tedros said describing the COVID-19 situation as a pandemic does not change the WHO's assessment of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus, nor does it change what the WHO is doing and countries should do.

He called on all countries to strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights in the midst of the pandemic.

The Iranian government has begun setting up quarantine centers and treatment facilities as the caseload in the country has reached 9,000 by Wednesday.

To shore up its economy, the British government on Wednesday pledged 30 billion pounds (39 billion U.S. dollars) in a stimulus plan. Italy also decided to allocate 25 billion euros (28.3 billion dollars) to deal with the COVID-19 emergency in the country.

In the United States, the total number of confirmed cases reached 1,001 with 28 deaths by 11:30 p.m. EST Tuesday (0330 GMT on Wednesday), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that the White House is considering postponing the April 15 tax filing deadline for individual taxpayers and small businesses to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak amid concerns about U.S. economic prospect in the months ahead.

"This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector," Tedros said at the press conference, urging every sector and individual to be involved in the global fight against COVID-19.

"We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear," he said.

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