Pandemic declared over 'alarming' virus spread


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared the global coronavirus crisis a pandemic.

"The 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," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva early on Thursday morning.

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



The organisation defines pandemic as "an outbreak of a new pathogen that spreads easily from person to person across the globe".

But Dr Tedros warned the word should not cause "unreasonable fear", saying more than 90 per cent of the world's cases were still in just four countries: China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

"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," he said.

"Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO's assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn't change what WHO is doing, and it doesn't change what countries should do."

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The WHO had previously shied away from using the word, but now appears to want to shock countries into action.

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

"All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response.

"We're in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It's doable."


The virus has spread to at least 114 countries. Picture: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
The virus has spread to at least 114 countries. Picture: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren


More than 120,000 cases of the virus have now been confirmed across 114 countries, and 4,373 people have died.

But those figures are expected to climb even higher over the next few weeks, Dr Tedros said.

"In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled," he said.

"Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals."

With the number of new cases being reported in China on the decline, Iran and Italy are emerging as the new frontlines.

Iran announced 63 new deaths on Wednesday, taking its total to 354, while Italian doctors say some hospitals are now having to run warlike operations, where younger patients with a higher chance of survival are being prioritised.

As of Wednesday evening, Australia had 128 cases, with 65 in New South Wales, 22 in Victoria, 20 in Queensland, 9 in both Western Australia and South Australia and 3 in Tasmania.