WHO calls Covid-19 ‘a pandemic’, but one that can be ‘controlled’

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on March 12, 2020

Never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus, says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

It was just a matter of time before the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) a pandemic.

The multilateral agency did just that, with WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus characterising Covid-19 a pandemic given its alarming spread, severity and “the alarming levels of inaction”. However, he added, this was a pandemic that can be controlled.

“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,” Tedros sad, briefing the media on Wednesday.

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time,” the DG said.

The numbers

A vital statistic from the WHO chief is that, “Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 per cent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those — China and the Republic of Korea — have significantly declining epidemics. Eighty-one countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less.”

And yet, he said, “We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilise their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.”

The WHO had come in for criticism for calling a pandemic too early in the case of HINI (swine flu) in 2009, a move that was seen as scaremongering. This time around, the spread has been over the last three-four months, from the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China to other geographies including Singapore, South Korea and now Iran, Italy, the UK and the US. Italy has seen a complete lock down, while other countries are tackling it locally.

Spread in India

India has confirmed about 60 confirmed Covid-19 cases from States including Kerala, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra, with some being critical. Experts urge the government to emphasise measures of “social distancing” including avoiding mass gatherings etc and to undertake sentinel testing in key hospitals, especially of cases with acute pneumonia and to trace back the origins of the illness. This could help prevent a spread in communities and clusters, they point out.


The government has started communicating to the public the need to wash hands repeatedly and cover one’s mouth while coughing, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, which spreads through droplets.

“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector — so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight,” said the WHO chief. A message to governments across the world that they would need to pull in all resources and hands on board to control the spread.

Published on March 12, 2020

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