Like the cases of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, Iran, South Korea, the United States and other countries, many scientists say it is evident that the world is in the grip of a pandemic – a serious global outbreak.
The World Health Organization has so far resisted describing the crisis, saying that the word “pandemic” may frighten the world even more and cause some countries to lose hope of containing the virus.
"Unless we are convinced that it is uncontrollable, why would we call it a pandemic?" WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week.
The UN health agency previously described a pandemic as a situation where a new virus is causing "sustained outbreaks at the community level" in at least two regions of the world.
Experts say the limit was reached a long time ago
Many experts say this threshold was reached long ago: the virus that was first identified in China is now spreading freely in four regions, has reached all continents except Antarctica, and its advance seems inevitable. The disease managed to establish itself and multiply quickly, even in countries with relatively strong public health systems.
On Friday, the virus reached a new milestone, infecting more than 100,000 people worldwide, far more than those affected by SARS, MERS or Ebola in recent years.
"I think it's pretty clear that we are in a pandemic and I don't know why WHO is resisting it," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Declaring a pandemic may cause additional restrictions
Experts recognize that declaring a pandemic is politically difficult, because it can shake markets, lead to more drastic travel and trade restrictions and stigmatize people from affected regions. WHO has previously been criticized for classifying the 2009 swine flu outbreak as a pandemic. But experts said that considering this crisis to be a pandemic could also encourage countries to prepare for the eventual arrival of the virus.
WHO has already declared the virus a "global health emergency" at the end of January, alerting countries and humanitarian organizations and issuing a broad set of recommendations to contain its spread.
Even in countries that moved quickly to end their ties with China, COVID-19 managed to infiltrate. Within weeks, authorities in Italy, Iran and South Korea began reporting unique cases to hundreds.
"We were the first country to stop flights to China and we were completely surprised by this disease," said Massimo Galli, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Milan. "It is dangerous for the whole world that the virus could spread underground like this . "
With more than 3,800 cases, Italy is the epicenter of the European outbreak and has closed schools, closed sports stadiums for fans and asked the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary. But it still exported cases of the virus to at least 10 countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Spain, South Africa and Nigeria.
Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh who co-chaired a review of the WHO response to the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, said a pandemic declaration was delayed.
"This outbreak meets all the definitions for a pandemic we had before the coronavirus," she said.
At a news conference last month, Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO's chief emergency officer, said that a pandemic is "a unique situation in which we believe that all citizens on the planet" are likely to be exposed to a virus "within a period defined. "
Several experts said they had not heard this definition. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in turn, define a pandemic as "an epidemic that has spread to several countries or continents, usually affecting large numbers of people".
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