Coronavirus has been declared pandemic: What it means, what took so long and why it should worry you?
Despite declaring the coronavirus a pandemic, the WHO is still urging countries to “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) described the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday as the infections from COVID-19 rose to 118,000, with nearly 4,300 deaths worldwide. The killer virus has now spiralled to over 120 countries. But the agency has, however, stressed that using the word “pandemic” does not signal a change in its advice. It is still urging countries to “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people”.
"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 in Geneva on Wednesday.
"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," he said. But what exactly pandemic means, why is it alarming and what are the implications?
Today’s declaration of a #COVID19 pandemic is a call to action – for everyone, everywhere.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) March 11, 2020
It’s also a call for responsibility & solidarity – as nations united and as people united.
As we fight the virus, we cannot let fear go viral.
Let’s overcome this common threat together. pic.twitter.com/upAda4Lvzy
This is the first pandemic caused by a #coronavirus.— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 11, 2020
We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic. This is the first pandemic that can be controlled.https://t.co/dIoa4jYAUN
There’s been so much attention on one word.— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 11, 2020
But these words matter much more:
We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm & protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable. #COVID19 #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/Stikdo2vkw
What is a pandemic?
According to the WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations. According to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in US, several people think that the word "pandemic" is closely connected to the 1918 flu pandemic that killed tens of millions of people. But by definition, a pandemic doesn't need that scale of destruction. In reality, it's a loosely defined term.
"We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic," reads a statement from Tedros.
Why WHO took so long to call coronavirus a pandemic?
The declaration comes as the coronavirus cases are increasing across the globe. Infections outside China have increased 13-fold in two weeks, Tedros said. In that same time, the number of countries hit by the outbreak has tripled. WHO cited inaction as a major reason for the timing of the declaration.
"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," Tedros said in a statement.
"We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic."
Difference between pandemic and epidemic
An epidemic is an illness affecting a defined region. When a certain disease is present at a relatively constant rate in a population within a certain geographical area, and remains at this rate, it is known as an endemic disease.
A pandemic, on the other hand, has a global impact and is out of control. It is "an epidemic that has spread over several countries and continents, and affects a large group of people".
How does the WHO decide whether to call it a pandemic?
Cases that involve travellers who have been infected in a foreign country and have then returned to their home country, or who have been infected by that traveller, doesn’t make a pandemic. There needs to be a second wave of infection from person to person throughout the community.
The Sars coronavirus, identified in 2003, was not declared a pandemic by the WHO despite affecting 26 countries. However, its spread was contained quickly, and only a handful of nations were significantly affected, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Canada.
If declaring a pandemic triggers global panic, this can defeat the purpose of trying to raise awareness. Much has been written about whether the declaration of H1N1, colloquially known as “swine flu”, as a pandemic in 2009, caused unnecessary panic, overwhelming emergency departments and causing governments to overspend on antiviral medications. Coronavirus symptoms are generally mild and most people recover within six days.
"I remind all countries that we are calling on you to (1):— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2020
-activate & scale up your emergency response mechanisms
-communicate with your people about the risks & how they can protect themselves
-find, isolate, test & treat every #COVID19 case & trace every contact"-@DrTedros
When was the last pandemic declared?
Past examples include H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and the 1918 Spanish flu. The WHO declared an end to the global 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic a decade ago -- 2010, but the H1N1 virus continues to circulate as a seasonal flu virus every year.
Some of the most deadly pandemics in history were the Black Death, which killed up to 200 million people in the Middle Ages, and smallpox, which killed about 300 million in the 20th century.
The 1918 Spanish Flu -- An influenza pandemic with a fatality rate of two per cent or more killed at least 50 million people globally -- many more than the total deaths in the First World War.
How to stay safe
Practise these personal hygiene habits to steer clear of catching any sort of virus or flu.
-- Wash your hands regularly for about 20 seconds with soap and hot water or use a sanitizer gel. Do not forget to take your temperature daily.
-- Use tissues while sneezing or coughing and do not forget to throw them away in a dustbin after using them. In case you don’t have a tissue, use the bend of your elbow.
-- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
-- Maintain distance from people who are unwell.
-- Avoid crowded places.
-- Stay at home if you feel unwell -- even with a slight fever and cough.
-- Use serving spoons when having group meals. In the present situation, it is best not to share food. But if group meals are unavoidable, then use serving spoons to prevent germs spreading from one person to another.
-- Eat on trays which will prevent food from spilling or dripping from plates and bowls onto the tables, and cleaners having to pick them up, potentially spreading diseases.
-- Keep public toilets clean and dry as it this will reduce the spread of diseases and viruses such as Covid-19 and dengue within the community.
What to do if you get a fever and dry cough?
At the first symptoms of illness, people should go get a quick test. It could assure them that they’re okay to go to work, or to go to a public gathering, or even to go home. If a test comes positive then a person will be quarantined and his/her close contacts would be alerted of an anonymous exposure.