Feb 24, 2020 - Health

WHO says coronavirus is not yet a pandemic

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization will not yet call the coronavirus a pandemic, claiming that needs across affected countries are too varied and the classification would increase fear, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a briefing Monday.

Context: WHO considers the classification of a global pandemic when epidemics occur in several countries at once. However, there's no clear threshold for the number of cases that meet the definition of an epidemic, with the CDC defining it as "an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area."

The big picture: Iran, Italy and South Korea have experienced rapid person-to-person spread into the weekend, with case counts in the latter two countries increasing from tens to hundreds within days.

  • "Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet," Tedros said.
  • Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, previously told Axios that we may be "at the brink" of a pandemic and that the U.S. is already gearing up public health protocols in case the situation escalates to that level.

What they're saying:

"For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death.
Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet. So how should we describe the current situation? What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world, affecting countries in different ways and requiring a tailored response.
The sudden increase in new cases is certainly very concerning. I have spoken consistently about the need for facts, not fear. Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear. This is not the time to focus on what word we use. That will not prevent a single infection today, or save a single life today."
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

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