NEWS
03/11/2020 12:43 EDT | Updated 03/11/2020 14:44 EDT

World Health Organization Declares COVID-19 A Pandemic

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 4,200 people worldwide.

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, addresses the media during a daily news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. Months after the COVID-19 virus outbreak emerged, the WHO is now calling the situation a pandemic.

The World Health Organization has officially declared COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, a pandemic.

The virus, which originated in China, has infected more than 113,000 people worldwide and killed more than 4,000, according to the WHO.

In the U.S., more than 930 people have been infected and at least 29 people have died across 28 states and Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a pandemic as an epidemic — a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease — that has “spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. “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,” he added. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

Ghebreyesus stressed that evidence suggests this coronavirus can be controlled if appropriate measures are taken by each country.

“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large COVID-19 clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same — it’s whether they will,” Ghebreyesus said.

“We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and South Korea to slow the virus and control their COVID-19 epidemics,” he continued. “We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.”

Ghebreyesus stressed that evidence suggests that this coronavirus can be controlled if appropriate measures are taken by each country around the world.

“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large COVID-19 clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same — it’s whether they will,” Ghebreyesus said.

“We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and South Korea to slow the virus and control their COVID-19 epidemics,” he continued. “We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low, and most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience manageable symptoms like a fever or cough. For some, such as seniors and those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions, the illness can be more severe.

Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization. One has died, a man who lived in a nursing home in Vancouver.

Individual behaviour — like washing hands and coughing into the crook of an elbow — can slow the spread of the infection.

With files from The Canadians Press.

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