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The World Health Organization said the coronavirus outbreak that has swept from China to a number of countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe is not yet a pandemic, but it urged countries to prepare for its arrival on the assumption that a declaration may come.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries should be working to protect health workers, engaging groups that are at highest risk — for instance, the elderly — and striving to contain spread of the virus to the highest degree possible to slow its arrival in countries that don’t have the means to respond to its threat.

“For the moment, we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we’re not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths,” he told journalists during a briefing from the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”


Despite that message, Tedros, as he is known, and the senior WHO executives who attended the briefing with him spoke with palpably greater urgency about the need for the world to prepare to face this new coronavirus, provisionally named SARS-CoV2. The disease the virus causes has been named Covid-19.

Their warnings come as several explosive new fronts in the battle to drive the virus out of humans have opened up. South Korea, which had 30 cases at the beginning of last week, reported Monday that it has recorded 833 cases and seven deaths.


Iran, which reported its first cases late last week, has now diagnosed more than 60 cases, 13 of them fatal, according to the country’s news agency, IRNA. And Italy put a number of towns in the northern part of the country on lockdown after an eruption of cases over the weekend. The country has reported more than 150 cases and at least six deaths.

These new battlegrounds have emerged at a time when the outbreak has appeared to be declining in China, which imposed containment measures that are unprecedented in modern times. Tens of millions of people have been quarantined for weeks in a bid to stop or slow spread of the new virus, with schools and workplaces closed and strict limitations on movements.

A WHO mission to China, which concluded on Monday, found that the epidemic there peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2, said Bruce Aylward, international team lead for the WHO-China joint mission on Covid-19. Aylward revealed that fact at a press conference in Beijing.

The mission — made up of a team of international experts whose names have not been made public — has presented a report to the WHO with 22 recommendations, Tedros said. The report has not yet been made public.

He noted the group concluded, based on the data they saw, that the case fatality rate — the number of infected people who died — was between 2% and 4% in Wuhan, where the outbreak appeared to begin, and 0.7% elsewhere in China. None of those figures will allay fears of what the toll of this virus might be if it spreads globally.

To date outside of China, 28 countries have reported 2,074 cases and 23 deaths, Tedros said. China has reported 77,362 cases, and 2,618 deaths.

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, suggested countries need to be working full bore to be ready to deal with the virus.

“It is time to prepare. It is time to do everything you would do in preparing for a pandemic,” he insisted.

Continuing to focus on trying to contain the virus — a goal many infectious diseases experts are skeptical can be met — buys time, Ryan said, noting if the illness can be prevented from spreading in Europe until flu season ends, hospitals won’t face a double blow.

“Even slowing down the virus by a month or six weeks has a massive positive benefit to the system,’’ he said.

But people need to be realistic about the limits of containment. “We cannot shut down the world,” Ryan said. “That’s not going to work.”

Countries should be working on trying to reduce the risk of imported cases, reduce the risk of spread from cases that get in, and increase the chance that people who get sick survive the infection. “But I think we have to be very, very careful in trying to suggest that we could absolutely stop the virus from spreading from one country to the next,” he said. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

  • What are u waiting Tedros? This is a Pandemia already. Move fast and do something instead of cover the true. People are dying. Politicians don’t worry to much because they have a place to go in case of a pandemic and what about the rest of the population. STOP ALL FLUGHTS, DONT LET PEOPLE COME USA IF ( YOU ) REALLY WANT TO STOP THESE PANDEMIA. WHAT ARE THEY WAITING FOR? THE VIRUS IS ALREADY IN THE AIR OF USA. POLITICIANS ARE TALKING ABOUT MONEY MARKET AND MONEY MONEY INSTEAD OF STOPPING THIS PANDEMIC. CHINA IS RESPONSABLE OF THIS WORLD PANDEMIC, SAY THE TRUE AND STOP THIS DEADLY PANDEMIC

  • My grandson has very bad asthma I bought a few of the N95 face masks for him will he benefit from wearing one when we go on the airplane if Covid 19 gets to our area. and what about glasses I see all the DR’s covering their eyes completely so could you get it entering your eyes. If not why are all the Dr’s covering their whole face?


    This is ridiculous. According to the pre-eminent Professor of Gobal Health nd epidemiology Kathryn Jacobsen (watch the video),
    The criteria for declaring pandemic, which is rightly reserved for the WHO, depends on the number of cases, countries, and geography.
    So with China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Iran, with hundreds of thousands? How many more?


  • If travel and gatherings are not curbed globally – of course this virus spreads – to pandemic proportions in the absence of active medical action against it. The now low fatality rate of 1 – 2.5% might drastically increase as the virus mutates = gets stronger. Could STAT news dig deeper, and build / find a list of companies “anywhere” that are stepping up R & D against CoVid-19 ? That would constitute pro-active participation rather than stating the obvious.

  • Any smart person will assume that the wuhan virus is already a pandemic. If one wait till WHO proclaims it, then it will be too late to prepare.

    On the side, the coronavirus was announced on early 2x of January, with Wuhan shutting down on Jan 23.

    Yet for some stupid and selfish reason reason, some people went on a cruise in Asia where the covid-19 is going on with many things still unknown. When they get stuck in Japan and Cambodia, they start calling on the US government to bring them home. Very selfish people. It was already announced that the first three weeks following the Chinese Lunar on Jan 25 is going to be a wait and see, yet they went ahead with going to cruise.

    Now we are stuck we several cruise evacuees with coronavirus with several states refusing to take them in. I am not against the government taking in US citizen or resident evacuees from Wuhan back to US as was probably safer to bring them back and guarantee them. In fact they even refused to bring those people who show symptoms only. Those people were in Wuhan before the viral pneumonia was announced, so it wasn’t their fault that they are caught in the middle of this virus scare.

    But the selfish people going on cruise knowing there is a dangerous coronavirus circulating in Asia and then asked to be chartered back when they are quarantine in the ship is plain selfish, esp those that comes back with cover-19.

    The know the risk and went ahead to have fun and cry for help when they get into danger, how selfish is that.

    Both the State department and the HHS should fire the people responsible for the decision to put the infected passenger in the same plane with the non infected passenger against CDC advised. They should not be even bought back and let them recover in Japan. The US citizen in Wuhan was refused yet the people on the cruise ship, who went their knowing the risk was brought back even when they tested positive of covid-19.

    Now Northern CA does not have enough bed to house this 156 people. States are refusing to take them in, for obvious reason. It seems both the HHS and State department made decision without backup plan. All the states who reject them said there was no plan.

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