AUSTIN (KXAN) — The World Health Organization officially labeled the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, as a pandemic. Health officials said they were concerned by the “alarming levels of inaction” and said the organization expected the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and affected countries to “climb even higher.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the leader of the U.N. agency, spoke at a briefing in Geneva Wednesday and said that the new designation came after careful consideration.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Tedros said. “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 from the beginning, WHO has urged countries to take “urgent and aggressive action.” That means readying hospitals, protecting and training health workers and looking out for one another, he said. He pointed out that of the 118,000 cases detected in 114 countries, more than 90% of cases are in four countries. Two of those, China and Korea, “have significantly declining epidemics.”
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” Tedros said.
He asserted even countries with community transmission can make a difference — and he said the challenge is not whether countries can take necessary steps, but if they will. He said some struggle with capacity issues, resource issues or “a lack of resolve.”
“We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and South Korea to slow the virus and control their COVID-19 epidemics,” he added. “We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.”