World Health Organization deems coronavirus a ‘pandemic’

The World Health Organization on Wednesday deemed the outbreak of COVID-19 a “pandemic.”

“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,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus .

“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” and that it does not change its “assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus” and it “doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

The WHO has not declared an international pandemic since 2009 after the outbreak of then-novel H1N1 virus. Ghebreyesus said this is the first time a coronavirus has ever caused a pandemic. Coronaviruses typically cause the common cold, but deadly viruses SARS and MERS were also coronaviruses.
Ghebreyesus emphasized that countries can still take aggressive steps to beat back the spread of the virus.

“Even those countries with community transmission or larger clusters can turn the tide on this virus,” he said.

The WHO has not deemed an international pandemic since 2009 after the outbreak of the then-novel H1N1 virus.

Health experts and officials are still trying to grapple with this new coronavirus, which originated at a wildlife market in China’s Hubei province. It has rattled industries and stock markets worldwide and infected more than 121,000 and killed at least 4,373, largely the elderly with underlying health conditions.

The U.N. agency in late February increased the risk assessment from “high” to “very high.”

Since then, the number of cases outside China has soared. In Italy, more than 10,000 cases have surfaced and 600 have died. The European nation remains on lockdown and expects to see more confirmed cases. On Wednesday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as much as 70% of Germany’s population was likely to become infected. She recommended cancellation of large events. In the United States, more than 1,000 cases have been confirmed, with Washington state, New York and California seeing the largest clusters.

As testing expands, the number of cases is likely to grow. Experts surmise that, as of March 1, about 1,000 to 10,000 people nationwide were already unknowingly infected.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that California had at least 157 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and thousands might have come into contact with the virus.

In California, Santa Clara County remains the largest outbreak, with at least 45 confirmed cases. Los Angeles County has at least 17 cases, the second highest of any county.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Education declared a state of emergency, giving Supt. Austin Beutner the authority to close schools if necessary.

In the Bay Area, the Archdiocese of San Francisco shuttered all 90 of its schools in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties until March 25. The Elk Grove Unified district, the largest in Northern California, closed schools for the entire week after an elementary school student was diagnosed with the virus.