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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1893 Comments
  • puppycatlover29
    This pandemic is so serious!! Stay Safe and Strong!
    • kittylover111
      Hope everyone's staying safe! WEAR YOUR MASK CORRECTLY! (Under NOSE AND MOUTH!) Also get vaccinated those 5 and up! Also get your boosters! Vaccines help!
      • pastelea
        pastelea17 days
        Can not believe it has been almost 2 years!!!😷Please wear a mask everyone especially with the stomach bug going around. It is going around my school.😭If you want the vaccine please get it because I did not get it and I had covid I lost my smell and I still can not smell and that was during the summer! I hope I will be able to smell again. 😢
        • stephany_hannah
          I can't believe how fast void-19 was spreading! Especially in China. Everyone, please wear masks!!! And get the vaccine! Please help this world! Our population is decreasing! #Save the world #Wear mask # Get vaccine now #Pandemic
          • sokeefe_forever
            Since I last posted a comment in here, Pennsylvania no longer is requiring masks with the exception of medical facilities, so when I go to the orthodontist or doctor or something, I still have too wear one, which is totally fine with me! Also I think I said I habe had vivid and so had all of my family except my oldest sister. Well, my oldest sister got fully vaccinated AND had to wear her mask everywhere in her state. But somehow she still got covid! Anyone else know someone who got vaccinated and wore masks and still got the virus? Anyways was stay safe!!!!
            • techfashion0315
              My dad got Covid when he was vaccinated and lost his smell!
              • sokeefe_forever
                Oof yeah, that's what happened to my sister. I had it last october or november and wasn't vaccinated obviously, I don't even think the vaccines were around at that point, and I also lost my taste and smell for about 2 weeks! It was no fun, but it wasn't too horrible. Anyways, I hope he's better now! Have a great new year!!!!
              • sokeefe_forever
                *keep staying safe lol
              • coolish
                coolish30 days
                I am getting the vaccine after Christmas! I'm a little scared but it will help me
                • techfashion0315
                  Don't be scared. I felt a little poke and I was fine. I was a little tired when I got the second vaccine but nothing too, too, bad.
                  • coolish
                    coolish26 days
                    Getting the vaccine tomorrow! 😮😮😮 #Staysafe
                    • techfashion0315
                      That is great! I hope you did well. I am fully vaccinated. I agree, #Staysafe.
                  • coolboy54321
                    coolboy54321about 1 month
                    I had covid once. It's not that bad if you have the right supplements. I just had a horse cough and a sore through. Be sure to get plenty of vitamin C and zinc.
                    • sokeefe_forever
                      I had it as well, you're right! It wasn't bad at all!
                    • mrstinkybeast
                      mrstinkybeastabout 2 months
                      I've had the 😷virus😷, oh yes. I might be getting the vaccine soon!
                      • erincs2010
                        erincs2010about 2 months
                        In March of 2020 are whole world shut down!!!But now we are stronger than ever!This will be over soon!never give up hope everyone!
                        • koalalover1117
                          Hi, it's koalalover1117! Congratulations on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic! Even though it's not officially over yet, we have come a long way since the first lockdown. Please wear masks when indoors, wash your hands often, and get vaccinated if you can. One person can make a big difference! To encourage everyone to do this, use my hashtag, #staysafe. Reply and follow if you agree!😄