The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the spread of Covid-19 around the world has reached the stage where it can be described as a pandemic.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” the director-general said.

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do,” he added.

Tedros said that some countries are struggling to tackle the spread of the Covid-19 illness due to a lack of capacity but others are struggling because of a lack of resolve.

He said that swift action from authorities can prevent larger clusters of cases and community transmission and even if they fail to do so “they can turn the tide”. 

He called on governments to change the course of the outbreak by taking “urgent and aggressive action.”

Pandemic is the term the WHO uses to describe the “worldwide spread of a new disease.”

The WHO last declared a pandemic during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. However, the organization faced stiff criticism over that decision as many said it created unnecessary panic.

The novel coronavirus outbreak started in China late last year but official figures show that the Asian country has stabilized the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, the number of cases in European countries has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told Tuesday that despite lower levels of infection in China, it’s “not time to take the foot off the accelerator.” However, China’s declining case count has “shown us that you can stop this thing.”

Harris suggested the U.S. would see an inevitable rise in cases, especially as people with no known foreign travel links unwittingly infect others.

“What happens in the next couple of weeks is really in the hands of everyone,” she said.

The UN announced it would close its New York headquarters to the public and suspend all tours.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a 30-day suspension of travel from Europe excluding the UK. The order is set to take effect on Friday. He delivered the news during an address to the nation on Wednesday evening, saying that “strong but necessary” action must be taken to contain the spread of the virus in the U.S.

Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended travel of citizens and residents and halted flights with several states due to coronavirus fears.

A 10-fold increase

The WHO officials said the number of cases outside China has increased tenfold and the number of countries affected has tripled.

On Wednesday the death toll in Italy, the worst hit European nation so far, jumped by 31 percent. The number of cases in the country also rose by more than 22 percent.

Governments from China to the U.S. have been accused of reacting too slowly to prevent the deadly illness from spreading.

Pandemic means “all people”

The word “pandemic” itself originates with the Greek work pándēmos, which translates to “all people.”

The WHO defines it as the “worldwide spread of a new disease” — a recent example being the HIV crisis. “A pandemic just means that there are many cases of infectious diseases in multiple parts of the world and that it constitutes something that’s above the baseline rate that you’d expect,” said infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an earlier interview. “It doesn’t say anything about severity.”

124,578 cases, 4,584 deaths

At least eight countries including the U.S., France and Germany have reported 1,000 or more cases.

Worldwide there are now 124,578 cases of COVID-19, at least 4,600 deaths.

However, more than 66,000 people have recovered since the novel coronavirus was first detected in December.

Europe

In Europe, where outbreaks in France, Germany, Italy and Spain have worsened in recent days, similar initiatives are being taken.

S Korea

The number of newly identified cases in South Korea rose overnight, to 7,755 cases and 61 deaths. Iran now has 9,000 cases and 354 deaths.

U.S.

The U.S. case count is now 1,110, with 30 deaths in California, Florida, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington state, according to the most recent data from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Centers for Systems Science and Engineering.

Alarming clusters of the coronavirus swelled on both coasts of the U.S., with more than 70 cases now tied to a biotech conference in Boston and infections turning up at 10 nursing homes in the hard-hit Seattle area.

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden abruptly canceled rallies because of worries about the virus.

Testing gap is creating public-health chaos in the U.S.

The list of event and school cancellations is growing, as colleges and school districts in hard-hit areas consider what actions to take, and how to continue the school year remotely.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday that the new concern is Europe, where cases are surging.

“Ninety-nine percent of the cases that occurred last night occurred outside of China. This isn’t China right now, the epicenter, the new China is Europe, and there are a lot of people coming back and forth from Europe,” he said. “That’s why you’re seeing more (cases) in New York.”

New diagnoses are rising at a rapid pace with New York becoming U.S.’s largest epicenter, even though California and Washington state were the first to report infections.

New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo announced deployment of the National Guard in an area considered most affected in the state. The National Guard would create a “containment area” around New Rochelle, the largest source of soaring infections within the Empire State.

Cuomo said three schools and other gathering places would be shut down for two weeks in a containment zone in New Rochelle, the epicenter of an outbreak of more than 100 cases.

The rising infections have prompted a number of universities, such as Harvard University to either cancel classes entirely, or move them online.

U.S. President Trump is expected to take a series of executive actions to deliver relief, including paid sick leave for hourly workers and extending tax-filing deadlines for small businesses.

Trump is weighing whether to restrict non-essential travel from Europe to the U.S. as the outbreak of coronavirus continues to spread on both continents, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The restrictions would include some business travel, according to one of the people, but it is unclear how far ranging the limits would be.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with insurance executives, and emerged with an agreement that coronavirus tests will be covered by health plans. Some insurers have also added telehealth as a free service amid the outbreak.

Seattle is going to close its public schools starting Thursday for at least two weeks. With more than 53,000 students, it would be the first major public school district in the U.S. to shut its doors in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Several other schools in the area, including the University of Washington, have already suspended in-person classes.

Local and state officials across the U.S. took several steps to discourage or ban large gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Washington recommended that meetings of more than 1,000 people in the nation’s capital be canceled or postponed through at least March 31.

San Francisco public health officials banned events of 1,000 people or more including games for the National Basketball Assocation’s Golden State Warriors, which will play without fans during its game Thursday night against the Brooklyn Nets. The order lasts for two weeks but can be extended as needed.

Growing concern about the potential impact of the outbreak has prompted further cancellations of major events and even more sizable work-from-home policies.

Coachella, the annual music festival in Sonorian Desert in California, has been postponed until October.

Washington governor Jay Inslee has announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people in virtually the entire Seattle metro area to try to stop the spread of the outbreak, said a person involved in the planning of the decision.

Santa Clara County in California, home to San Jose and Silicon Valley, on Monday announced a ban on all gatherings of 1,000 people or more.

Also in California, three Transportation Security Administration officers at Mineta San Jose International Airport have tested positive.

Last month Inslee declared a state of emergency over the virus outbreak. There are more than 260 confirmed cases in the state, most in the three counties that would be affected by Inslee’s new order.

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency as cases statewide jumped by 51 from the day before, to 92. Of that number, 70 are now connected to a meeting held last month by biotech company Biogen at a hotel in downtown Boston.

Baker said the state of emergency will give him greater authority to take such actions as shutting down large events, gaining access to buildings or stockpiling protective gear.

One of the biggest resort operators in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International, said it would close buffets at all of its Las Vegas Strip casinos as a precaution.

In Kentucky, governor Andy Beshear said state-run nursing homes would severely restrict visitors, with private operators strongly urged to follow suit. Six cases have been diagnosed in the state.

New Jersey reported its first coronavirus death Tuesday.

On Wall Street, stocks surged Tuesday after suffering staggering losses the day before, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining more than 1,100 points on hopes the Trump administration would take steps to cushion the economy from the damage caused by the outbreak.

In Oakland, California, thousands of restless passengers who have been stuck aboard a cruise ship hit by the coronavirus waited their turn to get off the vessel and go to U.S. military bases or back to their home countries for two weeks of quarantine.

After being forced to idle for days off the California coast, the ship docked Monday in Oakland with about 3,500 passengers and crew, including at least 21 who tested positive for the virus. Authorities said foreign passengers would be flown home, while Americans would be flown or bused to military bases in California, Texas and Georgia.

About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom tested positive for the virus, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere after passengers are unloaded, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

A pair of payments companies — Fiserv Inc. and Square Inc. — are either postponing investor days or moving them to a webcast format.

Endo 2020, a medical meeting for endocrinologists, has been canceled.

The Yonkers Raceway, a horse track, has been closed after an employee in the racing office died after testing positive for COVID-19.

Alphabet Inc. told all North American employees to work from home.

Shutdowns are starting to expand to the middle-America agriculture industry.

Derivatives exchange CME Group said it will close its famed trading pits in Chicago at the end of Friday.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shut down more than a week early.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said it was postponing an agriculture conference that had been scheduled for Kansas in early April.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it is temporarily waiving minimum slot-use requirement for airlines as demand for travel drops in the U.S.

Spain

Spain now has 2,182 cases and 49 deaths; Germany, 1,908 cases and three deaths. Italy, which is under a countrywide quarantine, has 12,462 cases and 827 deaths, and France has 1,784 cases and 33 deaths.

Banco Santander, Spain’s largest bank, is encouraging shareholders to vote before its annual meeting and attend remotely over coronavirus worries.

Spain’s health authorities on Wednesday calculated that the country could overcome its outbreak within two months, though experts remain doubtful. “In the worst case, that could be four or five months,” Spain’s director of the Center for Coordination of Health Fernando Simón said in a briefing, according to Spanish daily newspaper El Pais.

In Madrid students of all ages stayed home from school on Wednesday in what will initially be a 15-day period as the government tries to get a grip on soaring infections, half of which are in the region.

United Airlines President Scott Kirby, said Tuesday at an investor conference that the company’s net bookings to Asia and Europe are down 100%; the company’s “dire scenario planning assumption” is that revenue will be down 70% in April and May. In comparison, demand was down 40% for the two months following 9/11. Kirby said he expects to recover demand within 18 months.

UK

UK cases jumped 22% to 456, while Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe, saw a 31% increase in fatalities, to 827.

Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the UK Government’s emergency committee Thursday afternoon, and his office said he is likely to announce that the virus response is moving to the “Delay” phase.

That means accepting that the virus spread can no longer be contained, and instead looking to slow its spread. Options include encouraging home-working, restricting large gatherings, and closing schools. Johnson’s government has faced questions about why it hasn’t done that sooner, but has insisted it’s following scientific advice about the most effective time to shift response.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock offered to work with his Labour opponents on writing emergency laws to tackle the virus outbreak.

Labour welcomed the move and said it would join talks, expected to start on Thursday.

Emergency laws are likely to allow teachers to teach larger classes, haulers to work longer shifts.

Hancock said Parliament will remain open, despite a health minister becoming infected.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak says announced a total fiscal stimulus package valued at 30 billion pounds ($39 billion) to support jobs and businesses. That came hours after the Bank of England cut interest rates.

The government will fund statutory sick pay for employees of small and medium-sized companies who are off work because of coronavirus, Sunak said.

Italy

Italy has imposed a countrywide quarantine.

Italy’s stunning announcement to restrict movement in the country of 60 million raised the stakes for other regions including continental Europe, which are fighting uphill battles to prevent further spreading.

Italy closed all businesses except pharmacies and grocery stores.

Germany

Germany’s Merkel says 60%-70% of population potentially at risk.

Kuwait

The government declared the period of March 12-26 an official holiday in an effort to limit exposure to the coronavirus outbreak, state-run Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday.

Employers will continue to pay salaries. All commercial flights will be suspended.

Australia

Australia unveiled details of a A$17.6 billion ($11.4 billion) stimulus package to shield the economy from the impact of the outbreak.

The government will also spend A$6.7 billion over four years to support the cash flow of small and medium businesses so they can pay wages during the expected downturn.

The government will expand a tax write-off program with A$700 million in funding over four years to help businesses buy new equipment.

El Salvador

El Salvador is imposing some of the world’s toughest controls to curb the spread of the coronavirus before it has a single confirmed case of the disease.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele said he does not want to repeat their mistakes. “How much would Italy give to be in our position and be able to declare quarantine before having thousands of cases?” Bukele said in a national address.

The measures involve a ban on all visitors to the country via all ports of entry who are not residents or diplomats. Residents who return to El Salvador will be quarantined for 30 days. Schools are suspended for 21 days.


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