It started late last year when residents of Wuhan in China were swept with a rash of what initially seemed to be a local outbreak of pneumonia. It was not until December 2019 that local health authorities realized that a new type of coronavirus was discovered among new patients in the area, and not until the last day of the year was it declared an outbreak. By the start of 2020 new confirmed cases outside China began appearing, with the World Health Organization (WHO) initially declaring it a global health emergency. By March however, with the sudden surge of cases, they finally called the situation what it is: a pandemic.
The Washington Post reports that the World Health Organization has officially upgraded the 2019 novel coronavirus health emergency into a full-blown pandemic as of Wednesday, March 11. The decision to do so was due to a couple of factors according to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. First, the disease has continued to spread unabated despite actions undertaken by various national health agencies where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. That actually figures into the second factor, as the WHO is of the opinion that said agencies displayed “alarming levels of inaction” because the outbreak was termed just a “health emergency.”
The reason the United Nations’ specialized agency on health did not just jumped the gun on the novel coronavirus with an early pandemic declaration was that they did not want to incite panic upon the global population. This much was seen in the early weeks of January this year when there was an uptick in mass purchases of surgical masks (particularly the N95 type). But the hesitation, despite keeping concerns down at first, may have escalated the situation at this point, with 114 countries confirming COVID-19 infection numbering over 188,000 confirmed cases total, of which 4,291 people have already died.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of coronavirus cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” remarked WHO-DG Ghebreyesus, noting the mass increase of cases being reported globally after mass patient testing has been implemented. While the WHO pandemic declaration on COVID-19 has no uniform protocol or regulation enforcement, the context of the word’s definition –epidemic of a single disease occurring simultaneously in multiple countries at once – will spur authorities to take the situation with seriousness and care.
Aside from the dire pronouncement, the WHO also announced a ray of hope Wednesday, in that actions undertaken by government and health officials in South Korea and China itself has proven that aggressive measures of contact tracing, quarantine and isolation are effective in controlling the increase of new COVID-19 cases. Greater sanitation and social distancing are also encouraged for implementation. The last WHO-declared pandemic was in 2009 with the H1N1 swine flu, which spread quickly and just as quickly suppressed.
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