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World Health Organization Declares Coronavirus Outbreak a Pandemic

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks next to Michael J. Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, during a news conference on the coronavirus in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially declared the global outbreak of the coronavirus a pandemic, citing an expectation that cases of the deadly disease will continue to grow in the coming weeks.

“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 Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.”

“We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”

The WHO defines a pandemic as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, a respiratory disease that originated in China, has killed more than 4,500 people in 114 countries and infected over 124,000 people, including over 1,000 people in the U.S., where 32 people have died from the virus. The virus’s fatality rate is several times higher than that of the seasonal flu.

The WHO director-general urged people not to be alarmed by the official categorization of the outbreak as a pandemic, saying the fight goes on against the virus.

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by the virus,” Tedros said. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing. And it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

In January, the WHO declared the coronavirus epidemic a global health emergency as cases of the virus spread across China from Wuhan, where the outbreak started. Global markets have plunged in recent weeks as the hardest-hit countries have implemented measures to suppress the outbreak.

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