WHO declares COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said the COVID-19 outbreak can now "be characterised as a pandemic." He noted that "in the past two weeks the number of cases outside China has increased thirteen-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled," adding that the agency is "deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction." 

As of Wednesday morning, the number of cases of infection surpassed 121,500, spread out over 118 countries and regions, with at least 4373 deaths globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University (JHU). While infection rates appear to be slowing in China where the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in December, they are picking up pace in other parts of the world, with Italy having the most cases outside of China with roughly 10,149 infections, followed by Iran with 9000 infections and South Korea with 7755, the JHU data show. 

Tedros warned that "in the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher." However, he noted that cases in China and Korea have "significantly" declined, while 81 countries do not have any confirmed cases and 57 countries have 10 or less. "We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough, all countries can still change the course of this pandemic," the WHO chief said, adding that while some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity or resources, some "are struggling with a lack of resolve." 

Meanwhile, he said the pandemic declaration does not change the WHO's assessment of the threat posed by SARS-CoV-2, nor does it change what WHO is doing and what countries should do. However, he urged governments to take a "whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach," in a bid to prevent infections, save lives and minimise impact. 

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