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 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.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
India has also closed a border with neighbouring Myanmar to counter the coronavirus outbreak, as countries across South Asia reported a rise in cases on Wednesday. No cases have so far been confirmed in Myanmar.
The embassy noted that it coordinated with UAE national carriers Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways and Saudi national carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines to operate flights for the next 72 hours according to the announced schedule. It commended in this regard the notable cooperation shown by officials of the national carriers in question.
Also, additional 2,321 people have recovered from the virus and three people passed away.
The ambulances entered Gaza at the Rafah crossing, which is otherwise closed for five days over the Eid Al Fitr holiday and the weekend and is due to reopen on Monday.
Israeli planes renewed air strikes in Gaza early on Saturday and Hamas militants in Gaza responded by firing rockets into Israel as their battle entered a fifth night.