KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the global Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic, as it predicted increasing cases, deaths, and affected countries.
The public health agency defines a pandemic as a serious disease that is spreading in an uncontrolled way globally and is more serious than an outbreak or an epidemic.
“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,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus,” he added. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
Ghebreyesus said that if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilise their people in their response to the pandemic, countries with a handful of Covid-19 cases can prevent these from developing into local clusters.
Those clusters, on the hand, can then be prevented from turning into community transmissions, as is the case in some countries such as South Korea.
“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he said. “Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.”
At least 126,264 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported worldwide, with the majority of cases in China, the centre of the outbreak. Almost 70,000 people have recovered, but so far 4,633 people succumbed to Covid-19.
Covid-19 was previously declared by the WHO as a public health emergency of international concern, and was regarded as an outbreak — defined as the occurrence of disease cases in excess of what is normally expected.
An epidemic, meanwhile, refers to situations where a higher than normal number of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour, or other health-related events in a community or region, are reported.
The WHO last month played down talk of declaring the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, as authorities were not yet seeing an uncontained global spread of the virus or witnessing widespread serious cases or deaths.
The last time a pandemic was reported was the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, which killed hundreds of thousands globally, and affected Malaysia. The WHO declared the global H1N1 pandemic over in August 2010.