WHO Calls Coronavirus 'Deeply Concerning' But Not a Pandemic

The organization says nine infected countries have not reported a new case for more than two weeks.

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Despite the continued spread of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization said that the virus could be contained and should be not be considered a pandemic at the moment. 

As of Wednesday, China has reported 78,191 coronavirus cases, including 2,718 deaths. The outbreak, which began in late December in Wuhan, China, has spread to 37 countries with 2,790 confirmed cases and 44 deaths reported outside China. While WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the recent uptick of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea "deeply concerning," he rejected the need for panic.

"The increase in cases outside China has prompted some media and politicians to push for a pandemic to be declared. We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts," said Ghebreyesus. "Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems. It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true. We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things."

According to WHO, 14 affected countries have not reported a new case for more than a week and nine countries have not reported a case for more than two weeks -- including Belgium, Cambodia, Finland, India, Nepal, Philippines, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka and Sweden.

A WHO-China joint mission also found that the virus peaked and plateaued in China between January 23 and February 2, with the rate of new cases declining steadily since. WHO estimates that Chinese measures have helped prevent a significant number of cases.

A joint team of WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control members have been sent to Rome to combat the outbreak in Italy. A WHO team will also travel to Iran this weekend.

Ghebreyesus urged every nation to remain vigilant and prepared in case the situation worsens and reaches a pandemic level. He outlined three major priorities for countries to focus on: protecting health-care workers; engaging the community to safeguard those who are most at risk, including the elderly population and people with underlying health conditions; and providing support for nations which are most vulnerable to an outbreak. WHO guidelines on country readiness, patient management and more can be found here.