The risk of coronavirus is now ‘very high’ worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Friday.
Even ‘quite sophisticated countries…are having quite a bit of trouble’ containing its spread, said Dr Mike Ryan, who heads up the WHO’s emergency response efforts said during the press briefing.
Of the world’s 195 countries, at least 53 have reported cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has now sickened more than 83,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 2,900 globally.
The international agency hasn’t quite given up on containing the virus, but is deeply concerned by the rapid spread of infections in places like Italy, in spite of its well-developed health system.
Officials warned global citizens who are over 65 or have underlying health conditions that they are at risk for COVID-19, and even suggested they might avoid crowded places.
Moody’s Analytics Friday estimated that the risk of a global coronavirus pandemic has now doubled, to 40 percent, yet the WHO has continued to decline to label the outbreak that, instead calling it a series of ‘linked epidemics.’
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has elevated the risk level for coronavirus to ‘very high’ around the world
The WHO has by and large tried to quell panic and advise against personal measures that would disrupt daily life.
But the world’s top doctors are starting to shift their tone.
The WHO is still refusing to call the outbreak a pandemic, but just barely.
‘If this was influenza, we would probably have called it a pandemic by now,’ said Dr Ryan.
‘But with this virus…its course can be altered.’
Or, at least it can be in some countries. WHO officials said that it’s ‘unhelpful’ to call the outbreak a pandemic – instead referring to it as a series of ‘linked epidemics’ – but said that in some places they’re beginning to shift strategies from containment to mitigation.
In other words, there’s no use trying to stop its spread in places like China, and it’s now time to try to better manage the onslaught of infections by bolstering hospitals and advancing research efforts for vaccines and treatments.
Rather than rely on public health systems to keep them safe, the officials advised older people – those over 65 – and people with underlying conditions to manage their own risks, including by avoiding crowded public gatherings where virulent pathogens like coronavirus could spread like wildfire.