In a significant announcement, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It noted that the new coronavirus, which was unheard of to the world just three months ago, has very quickl;y spread to more than 121,000 people from Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

“In the past two weeks the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold and the number of affected countries has tripled,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher.”

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the world.
  • “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” the WHO’s chief said.
  • WHO officials had been reluctant to make such a declaration.
  • Declaring a pandemic is charged with major political and economic ramifications, global health experts say.
  • “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said, just before declaring the pandemic. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”

He added:

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.

If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.

Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus. 

Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled. 

The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will.  

Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. 

Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. 

Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.

We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea to slow the virus and control their epidemics.

We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.

All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.

WHO’s mandate is public health. But we’re working with many partners across all sectors to mitigate the social and economic consequences of this pandemic.”

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