World must prepare for ‘potential coronavirus pandemic’: World Health Organization chief says spread of cases to Iran, Italy, South Korea is ‘deeply concerning’

Monday, February 24, 2020
By Paul Martin

Pandemic fears are mounting, with a spike in cases in South Korea and Italy
But the WHO will no longer officially declare an outbreak as being a pandemic
It says a pathogen must spread easily between humans across the world first
The body argues most of the confirmed cases can be tracked back to China

24 February 2020

The chief of the World Health Organization today warned the planet must prepare in case the coronavirus crisis becomes a pandemic.

Dr Tedros Adhanom admitted the sudden spike of COVID-19 cases in Iran, Italy and South Korea in the past 24 hours is ‘deeply concerning’.

In an dramatic demand for action, he said: ‘We must focus on containing while doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic.’

His comments at a press conference in Geneva came after the WHO admitted the killer outbreak won’t be officially declared a pandemic.

Instead, the UN-body said the crisis has already been a public health emergency of international concern – the highest warning level – for a month.

Fears of a pandemic are mounting, with a surge in cases taking the world close to the ‘tipping point’ with 80,000 confirmed cases and 2,600 deaths.

But the WHO – which defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease – will no longer officially declare that stage of an outbreak.

The body, headquartered in Geneva in Switzerland, argues a pathogen must spread easily between humans across the world before it is called a pandemic.

The WHO said the current crisis is a cluster of cases in 36 countries and territories, which can be traced back to Asia.

Leading scientists say most of the cases can be tracked back to China, where 97 per cent of cases of the pneumonia-causing virus have been recorded.

And a WHO spokesperson said it would start using the term pandemic in briefings if human-to-human transmission is sustained outside of Asia.

Dr Tedros told the conference in Geneva: ‘There is lots of speculation about whether this outbreak has now become a pandemic.

‘For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we’re not witnessing large scale disease or deaths.’

But, discussing the spate of new COVID-19 cases across the world, he added: ‘The sudden increase in new cases is certainly very concerning.

‘I’ve spoken consistently about the need for facts not fear. Using the word pandemic 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.

‘This is a time for all countries, communities, families and individuals to focus on preparing.’

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