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The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic but stressed that—with sufficient political will—nations can still “change the course” of the outbreak.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said in a press conference. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus,” added Tedros. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
Without naming specific countries, Tedros slammed the “alarming levels of inaction” from some governments in the face of the coronavirus outbreak and urged concerted action to stop the disease from spreading further.
“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of COVID-19 cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission,” said Tedros. “Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.”
“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large COVID-19 clusters or community transmission,” added Tedros, “is not whether they can do the same—it’s whether they will.”
The declaration came after the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, spread to at least 114 countries across the globe and killed more than 4,000 people.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Tedros said. “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”