The World Health Organization (WHO) finally described the new Coronavirus (COVID-19), a pandemic following the widespread of the virus with symptoms that resemble SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom) to 118 countries.
WHO Chief: ‘All Countries Can Still Change the Course of this Pandemic’
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response. We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
Pandemic comes from the Greek word “Pandemos,” referring to the belief that an infection or an illness can infect the world’s population. Pandemic is the next step up from an epidemic which describes an outbreak that spreads limited to certain parts of the world.
To decide whether the illness should be called a pandemic or not, it must fulfill three general requirements; the virus can cause severe illness or death, the virus’ human-to-human transmission continues uncontrollably, and the virus infects the global population.
WHO Previously Warned of Coronavirus’ Pandemic Potential
Previously, the WHO tended to refrain from calling the outbreak a pandemic, citing that the decision (to call it a pandemic) would be based on the assessment on how uncontrollable the disease was. However, the WHO also admitted that the virus had a pandemic potential, warning people to prepare for the pandemic possibility de to the quick widespread of the virus.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet,” Ghebreyesus stated during the briefing in Geneva at the end of February.
Is the Pandemic Declaration Too Late?
The WHO’s decision is considered too late by some such as Brazil’s Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta who argues that if the Geneva-based organization had declared a pandemic earlier, the numbers of fatalities would have been reduced.
“Now, in a manner that is even late, the WHO agrees with the Brazilian assessment that we are facing a pandemic,” Mandetta said.
Brazil has confirmed 52 COVID-19 cases with no fatalities at all (most are in Sao Paolo). The virus has forced three countries in Central and Latin America (El Salvador, Peru, and Panama) to shut down schools. On Saturday, March 7, Argentina also confirmed its first coronavirus death.
The WHO’s Cautious Approach
The WHO was cautious as it did not want to spark panic. In 2009, when it called the H1N1 (swine flu) a pandemic, the outbreak turned out to be mild, sparking criticism from pharmaceutical firms that were rushing to develop the vaccines, as Skynews reported.
The WHO also did not call the SARS outbreak in 2003 a pandemic despite its high mortality rate (60 percent) compared to the COVID-19 (3.4 percent) as only certain countries were severely affected, such as Hong Kong, China, and Singapore.
The WHO called on all countries to activate and increase emergency response mechanisms, communicate the risk of the virus and prevention measures to the public, and discover, split, test, and cure each COVID-19 case and trace every related contact.
The pandemic declaration will not change anything much given most countries are preparing in advance to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19. They have imposed travel bans, suspended outdoor activities, prepared facilities for hospitals appointed to treat such an infectious disease, distributed masks for free (like what is happening in Singapore) and so on.
The COVID-19 has spread to 118 countries and killed more than 4,000 globally. The number of confirmed cases outside China has tended to rise. As of Sunday, March 8, the virus had killed 463 in Italy. The new Coronavirus has also forced the Italian govenrment to impose lockdown and suspend all the sporting competitions.