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WHO Declares COVID-19 Outbreak Is Officially a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2020

In a media briefing that’s still ongoing as I’m writing this, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, has officially characterized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. A pandemic is defined as:

An influenza pandemic is a global epidemic caused by a new influenza virus to which there is little or no pre-existing immunity in the human population. Influenza pandemics are impossible to predict; and they may be mild, or cause severe disease or death. Severe disease may occur in certain risk groups, which may correspond to those at risk of severe disease due to seasonal influenza.

Here’s a transcript of Dr. Tedros’s opening remarks from the briefing.

WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. 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 virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

Progress on fighting COVID-19 can be made everywhere when the right steps are taken:

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.

But WHO also acknowledges how disruptive the pandemic can be:

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.

And in closing he deflects attention from the word “pandemic”:

Let me give you some other words that matter much more, and that are much more actionable.

Prevention.

Preparedness.

Public health.

Political leadership.

And most of all, people.

We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.