The WHO Has Declared The COVID-19 Coronavirus Outbreak A Pandemic: Here Is What That Means

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The COVID-19 coronavirus was declared a global pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020 (Credit: YouTube screen capture)

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the COVID-19 coronavirus global emergency is now a pandemic. The UN health agency urged countries worldwide to "double-down" on their efforts to curtail the spread of the infectious disease, which has swept into at least 114 countries and killed over 4,000 people in less than three months.

"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we're deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterized by 'pandemic,'" WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

What is a pandemic?

A pandemic refers to the unchecked spread of disease across many countries (Credit: www.utsouthwestern.edu)

A viral illness usually starts as an "outbreak." This refers to a large number of people in one area getting infected within a short period of time. For example, the series of measles cases in the US in 2019 was considered an outbreak. If the disease continues to spread extensively, it is termed an "epidemic." According to the WHO, an epidemic is "the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness ... clearly in excess of normal expectancy."

However, the rapid global spread of COVID-19 — which began as an outbreak with 41 identified cases in Wuhan, China — has clearly gone far beyond the local community and region, transforming into a "pandemic." Scary as it sounds, a pandemic is a loosely-defined term that does not necessarily predict a severely dire outcome. The WHO usually declares a pandemic when a new virus, for which people do not have immunity, spreads around the world beyond expectations.

Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer at King's College London, says: "The change of term does not alter anything practically as the world has been advised for the last few weeks to prepare for a potential pandemic, which has hopefully been taken seriously by all countries. The use of this term, however, highlights the importance of countries throughout the world working cooperatively and openly with one another and coming together as a united front in our efforts to bring this situation under control."

How is the world stepping up to the WHO's call for action?

While governments and corporations worldwide had taken some measures to curb the COVID-19 spread, its new status as a pandemic has elevated the urgency further. Italy, which has reported 10,000 COVID-19 cases, including 1,000 deaths — the worst outbreak outside of China — has imposed severe travel restrictions and banned all public gatherings. All sporting events have also been suspended indefinitely, and schools and universities have been shuttered until at least April 3, 2020.

Spain, with over 4,000 cases, has declared a national state of emergency. In addition to banning non-essential travel, the government has also closed all schools and universities until early April. In the Catalonia region, all businesses and retailers, except for ones selling food or essential goods, have been shut down in the four hardest-hit towns. Madrid, which is the epicenter of almost half of the country's COVID-19 cases, has taken similar measures and closed all restaurants, bars, and shops. Only supermarkets and pharmacies are allowed to remain open.

The US is taking similar measures. Following the WHO announcement, President Trump imposed a 30-day ban on visitors from continental Europe. He also promised to free up as much as $50 billion towards fighting the spread of the virus. The US government is also in the process of approving a bill that will provide free COVID-19 testing for all, and paid sick leave and unemployment insurance for those afflicted with the virus, as well as additional Medicaid funding for local healthcare systems.

Professional sports leagues, including the NBA, NCAA, NHL, and MLB, have either postponed or suspended their 2020 season. A large number of universities across the nation have closed and moved classes online for the rest of the school year. At least a dozen states, including —Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, and Alabama — have closed schools until the end of March or early April. Large retailers, including Apple Inc and Urban Outfitters are shuttering stores globally, while others like Walmart, are cutting store hours. Many American city and town officials have banned large public gatherings, including concerts. Officials are also urging citizens to limit private events to less than 100 guests.

What precautions can I take?

COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus, first surfaced in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 (Credit: CDC.gov)

Experts assert that simple precautions are the key to avoiding the infection. Wash your hands, including your nail tips, frequently and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands, and stay away from people displaying flu-like symptoms. Conversely, those experiencing such symptoms should get tested and not go to school, work, or any public area where they risk infecting others.

Given the unprecedented nature of the virus' spread, the situation is certainly not one to be taken lightly. However, thanks to the concerted efforts from government officials, corporations, and individuals, we remain optimistic that the COVID-19 pandemic will soon be contained.

Stay strong, stay healthy. We are all in this together!

Resources: Vox.com, LAtimes.com, www.brusselstimes.com USAtoday.com

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1289 Comments
  • janan10
    janan10Sunday, July 12, 2020 at 10:46 am
    COVID-19 might be deadly but we've all been sick before and we made our way through so if we jus do what we are supposed to do stay clean wear a mask stay home maybe we can help America go backhow how we had it people and I know we are all in this together because it we weren't we would be giving free food making mask you know helping each out this country would be calling a part so America were alone together 😊
    • animereina2020
      animereina2020Saturday, July 11, 2020 at 8:30 am
      My mom said that people are fighting about stuff like this. Like, some people want to help people by wearing masks, but other people are complaining because they have the right not to wear a mask. I think this is very ridiculous, and not a very good thing since they are fighting during this pandemic. My dad thinks my whole entire family has COVID 19 because we were sick in January. You know what is crazy? Some people that have COVID 19 don't go to the hospital! Like my aunts. They survived COVID 19, and they just stayed home. Please don't be scared of this virus. The news on TV is just trying to scare you and every time something and happens they act like it is the end of the world. I am glad that DOGOnews is on here to explain it without totally having to freak a kid out. We shouldn't be afraid of this virus. Trust me, we have been through many viruses before.
      • laynebot5
        laynebot5Wednesday, July 8, 2020 at 1:22 pm
        Omg so anxious 😓😓😓can't sleep
        • laynebot5
          laynebot5Wednesday, July 8, 2020 at 9:46 am
          ANXIOUS 😓😓😓😓😓
          • gvmdlz
            gvmdlzTuesday, July 7, 2020 at 8:01 pm
            Thanks to people owe are out there staying home because all of us are saving lives and don't worry because are fighting against covid-19 so stay home stay safe and have fun.👍
            • 11008800
              11008800Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 1:42 pm
              I hope everyone is healthy!! I hope everyone will be able to go back to school.
              • xoxobadgirl
                xoxobadgirlTuesday, July 7, 2020 at 1:37 pm
                Then we got Cronaviris
                • xoxobadgirl
                  xoxobadgirlTuesday, July 7, 2020 at 11:39 am
                  Not all life's matter until black lives matter
                  • animereina2020
                    animereina2020Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 10:18 am
                    I know that COVID 19 has forever changed our lives. This year is upside down, and I know that. It is a time of happiness and spending more time with family, but also a horrid time spreading of sickness. We can defeat this virus, I know we will. They are messing with the wrong people. We have been through the flu, and many other contagious viruses, but they won't stop us. Some are worried, scared, anxious, but it will be good at the end if we believe so. I had just moved into a new house and I haven't been happy way too much. But I have you guys, and you make my loneliness fade away. You are all very supportive and sweet, and so thank you. COVID 19 might not be over yet, but we can fight through it. Maybe, this year might turn back right up again. - Animereina2020❤
                    • goodvibesonly09
                      goodvibesonly09Monday, July 6, 2020 at 5:30 pm
                      Everyone I know that this is hard and I know its sad and tough but we can get through this together! And I even have a poem called "Together United!" I hope you enjoy it 😊. "This may be sad, and it may be hard, but together we can throw covid in the discard, Covid 19 may have made our lives frusterating, but all in all we have done pretty good, staying away from people in our neighborhood, I just want to let you know I care about all of you, even if it seems I do not, for I actually care a lot, Everyone stay safe, everyone stay home, and maybe covid 19 may come to an end, but untill then, just keep pray'n." I hope you liked it because to me it did not sound very good 😥But if u liked my poem like this comment! And follow me! I want to inspire all of you to make your own poems and share them too! I hope to see yours soon!
                      • janan10
                        janan10Sunday, July 12, 2020 at 10:48 am
                        Good job and inspiring
                        • bookfan2008
                          bookfan2008Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 2:52 pm
                          It's amazing! You did great, don't worry!
                          • animereina2020
                            animereina2020Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 10:11 am
                            I liked your poem so much! I might do one in this article soon 😉