Coronavirus: WHO terms COVID-19 'a global pandemic'

11:21 PM | 11 Mar, 2020
Coronavirus: WHO terms COVID-19 'a global pandemic'

GENEVA – The COVID-19 viral disease that has swept into at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people is now officially a pandemic, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday.

Addressing a news conference in Geneva today (Wednesday), Director General World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed deep concern over alarming levels of spread and severity, and alarming levels of inaction over the virus. 

"This is the first pandemic caused by coronavirus," Ghebreyesus declared at the briefing. He added the number of cases outside China has increased 13-fold over the past two weeks.

The characterization does not activate any specific action, he explained, noting that it "doesn't change what WHO is doing, and it doesn't change what countries should do."

Rather, the gravity of using the "pandemic" characterization, which is defined as a worldwide epidemic, is intended to spur more decisive action from nations which have been balking at taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously, Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO chief also urged all nations to "activate and scale up" emergency response mechanisms, communicate about the risks and protections and find, isolate, test and treat every case.

There are presently more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, the WHO said Wednesday. The death toll is near 4,300.

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Eight countries — including the US — are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19.

Iran's health ministry reported a new daily record Wednesday -- nearly 1,000 new patients and 63 deaths. The figures bring Iran's case total to 9,000, ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. He urged Iranians to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.

In China, Beijing reported only 24 new cases and 22 new deaths, all in the original hotspot of Hubei province.

The number of cases surpassed 10,000 in locked-down Italy -- including more than 500 new cases. Civil Protection Chief Angelo Borrelli said late Tuesday Italy's death toll was up 168 since Monday.

British cases climbed by 83, including six deaths. Neatly 27,500 people have been tested.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that up to 70 percent of her country's population could be infected over time if the spread is not stopped. According to the Robert Koch Institute, 1,296 Germans were infected as of Wednesday, with three confirmed deaths.

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The most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to a recent WHO report that draws on more than 70,000 cases in China: fever (in 88% of cases); dry cough (68%); fatigue (38%); sputum/phlegm production (33%).

Shortness of breath occurred in nearly 20% of cases, and about 13% had a sore throat or headache, the WHO said.