WHO declares coronavirus outbreak a pandemic

The World Health Organisation has declared the deadly outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic.

The significant move comes after WHO previously showed reluctance to use the term for weeks, with fears over a repeat of the hysteria created during the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009.

However WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said with the continued spread globally and the inadequate response from some nations, WHO has been left with no choice but to use the term.

“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said at a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday (local time).

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

However Tedros stressed attention on one singular word was not helpful.

“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,” he 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.”

Tedros said the declaration doesn’t change WHO’s response to the virus, nor should it change what is required from countries battling the spread.

Six medical workers in full protective gear fighting coronavirus.
The coronavirus outbreak is now a pandemic.

"We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” he said.

He said it was vital for all countries to activate and scale up emergency response mechanisms and to ensure every case of coronavirus is found and isolated while all contact is traced.

COVID-19 has so far been confirmed in 114 countries.

There have been more than 120,000 cases globally and 4386 deaths.

On Wednesday, Italy’s death toll surged by 31 per cent to 827.

“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,” Tedros said.

At the end of February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia would be treating the outbreak as a global pandemic and health authorities were preparing for a significant surge in cases.

On Thursday morning, Mr Morrison told Nine’s Today show such a move had allowed Australia to “get ahead”.

Australia’s cases continue to rise, surpassing 100 earlier this week. Roughly one half of cases have occurred in NSW, with a cluster in Sydney’s northwest around Macquarie Park and neighbouring suburbs.

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