Amid fears over the corona virus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) is being “extremely cautious” about classifying it as a pandemic, according to CNN. WHO describes a pandemic as the “worldwide spread of a new disease,” but there’s more to it.
The “real issue” is that WHO hasn’t observed “efficient community transmission” of COVID-19 outside China, where the virus originated, at the moment. Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, reiterated that “the majority of cases outside China have a direct link back to China.”
“Of the transmission in countries outside China, the majority can be traced through existing transmission chains. Therefore, I think we have to be very, very careful not to drive fear in the world right now, and be very cautious in using words.”
Though WHO has said the risk is “very high” in China, in the region, and around the world, it doesn’t mean that the risk is “high of a pandemic.” Ryan clarified that it means the risk is “high that the disease may spread further.”
Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of WHO's Infectious Hazards Management Department, agreed with this. “Before qualifying the event as the worst-case scenario, we need a lot more evidence and a lot more data. We need to be cautious because it can really create panic unnecessarily.”
In 2009, WHO declared the H1N1 influenza virus a pandemic, making it “the first global flu pandemic in 40 years,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ryan said in the CNN report, “We had lots of controversies during the H1N1 situation, around when it was pandemic and when it wasn’t pandemic, and I think we need to be careful.”
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