A family wearing face masks as a prevention measure against the COVID-19 sit in an auto-rickshaw in Karachi, Pakistan, on Wednesday. AFP
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
He urged the global community to redouble efforts to contain the outbreak, saying aggressive measures could still play a big role to curb the pandemic.
Now there are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 people have died, Tedros said, with the numbers expected to climb. The WHO no longer has a category for declaring a pandemic, except for influenza.
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies programme, said the situation in Iran was "very serious" and the agency would like to see more surveillance and more care for the sick.
The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December, has spread around the world, halting industry, bringing flights to a standstill, closing schools and forcing the postponement of sporting events and concerts.
The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern, its "highest level of alarm," on Jan.30 when there were fewer than 100 cases of COVID-19 outside China and eight cases of human-to-human transmission of the disease.
WHO officials have signalled for weeks that they may use the word "pandemic" as an descriptive term but stressed that it does not carry legal significance. The novel coronavirus is not the flu.
Under its previous system, the Geneva-based agency declared the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak a pandemic. It turned out to be mild, leading to some criticism after pharmaceutical companies rushed development of vaccines and drugs.
Ryan said the experience with influenza led many people to the false conclusion that a pandemic is uncontrollable once it starts.
The experience of South Korea, Singapore, and China in combating the new virus showed this was not true, he said.
"We have observation that tells us that there is a strong element of controllability in this disease," he told the news conference.
"That doesn't mean we will completely stop it but what it does mean is there is a real chance to blunt the curve, there is a real chance to bend the curve and reduce the number of cases that our health system has to cope with and give the health system a chance to save more lives," he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Thursday that several countries were not showing "the level of political commitment" needed to "match the level of the threat we all face." "This is not a drill," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. "This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor."
Several Arab ambassadors praised the UAE’s humanitarian initiative to evacuate citizens of friendly countries from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak, and host them in a humanitarian city in the country, to ensure their safety and recovery and provide them treatment.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) nationals wishing to enter the UAE should undergo COVID-19 medical test and place themselves under house quarantine for 14 days, said a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Friday.
Soldiers rescued residents on boats as floodwaters flowed down streets in southern Japanese towns hit by deadly rains that were expanding across the region on Tuesday. At least 50 people have died and a dozen are missing.
More than five million residents of Melbourne will be locked down for six weeks after coronavirus cases surged in Australia's second-biggest city, authorities announced Tuesday.
Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited Abu Dhabi drive-through testing facility at Abu Dhabi to get an overview of the progress made as part of SEHA’s extensive testing efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus.