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EXPLAINED | Coronavirus: Pandemic declaration, what it means and why you should care

Here is what you need to know

12 March 2020 - 10:07 By Unathi Nkanjeni
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared coronavirus a global pandemic. File Photo.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared coronavirus a global pandemic. File Photo.
Image: Nhac NGUYEN / AFP

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday declared coronavirus a global pandemic.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the declaration was a call to action for everyone, everywhere.

The deadly Covid-19 has rapidly spread worldwide from China.

Here is what you need to know.

High death, infection numbers

Ghebreyesus said the number of deaths and affected countries outside China over the past weeks indicated that world leaders were failing to act quickly or drastically enough to contain the spread of the deadly outbreak.

“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher.

“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.”

Why it took so long to declare Covid-19 a pandemic?

According to Ghebreyesus, inaction was among the reasons for the timing of the declaration.

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

“We have therefore assessed that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” he said.

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Why should you care?

Ghebreyesus urged countries to care, but not panic.

There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and more than 4,000 people have died.

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus and we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time. WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases,” Ghebreyesus said.

“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.”

Can the pandemic change?

All countries can still change the course of the pandemic, said Ghebreyesus.

He said countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimising economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.

“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response, those with a handful of Covid-19 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 coronavirus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled,” he said.