Despite Increase in COVID-19 Cases Outside China, WHO Says the Virus is Not Yet a Pandemic


In a press briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, PhD, said the decision to declare a pandemic is based on ongoing assessments of the geographic spread, the virus’s impact on overall society, and the severity of the illnesses.

With 256 new cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Republic of Korea,1 67 new cases in Italy,1 and 10 new cases in Iran,1 global health experts are concerned about increasing amounts of global spread. Despite these concerns, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this spread does not yet qualify as a pandemic.2

In a press briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, PhD, said the decision to declare a pandemic is based on ongoing assessments of the geographic spread, the virus’s impact on overall society, and the severity of the illnesses.2

“For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale civil disease or deaths,” Adhanom said.2

In total, China has confirmed 77,362 cases and 2,618 deaths, including 416 new cases and 150 deaths in the 24 hours ending 10 am on Monday, February 24.2

“We’re encouraged by the continued decline in cases in China,” Adhanom said.2

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A team of researchers has made several important findings regarding the spread of the disease and its fatality rate. Adhanom said the team found that the epitome of the virus peaked and plateaued between January 23 and February 2, and has since been declining steadily.2 The fatality rate is 2-4% in Wuhan, China, and 0.7% outside of Wuhan.2

Adhanom added that the researchers have found no significant change in the DNA of the virus,2 and said this is encouraging.

“This virus can be contained,” he said. “Indeed, there are many countries that have done exactly that.”2

Outside of China, the WHO has confirmed 2074 cases in 28 countries and 23 deaths.2

South Korea now has the highest number of confirmed cases outside of China, including 5 deaths. In response, officials have taken steps allowing the lockdown of affected cities, and restricting travel within the country, according to NPR.3

Officials in Italy also are responding to a surge in COVID-19 cases by issuing warnings for residents to stay home, and placing 11 towns on lockdown. According to the NPR report, citizens in those towns have been asked not to leave without special permission.3 The number of cases in Italy jumped from 3 on Friday to 152 on Sunday, making it the worst outbreak in Europe.3

Adhanom said the WHO priorities have remained largely the same across the globe, including protecting health care workers, engaging communities to protect the most at-risk people, and containing epidemics in countries that are more prepared to handle them, so that countries with weaker systems are not strongly affected.2

An international public opinion poll found that many people have reacted by changing their behaviors. In the survey, 54% of the 11,000 adults said they are washing their hands more often, 44% said they are avoiding crowds, and 41% use hand sanitizer more often.4

The majority of respondents said they are aware of the outbreak, but the survey found that the levels of concern vary by geography. Countries closer to the center of the outbreak, such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, and China, had the highest levels of concern (92%, 91%, 86%, and 84%, respectively).4

Even the least concerned respondents—those in Britain and Germany—are changing their behaviors, however. In the UK, 35% of respondents said they are washing their hands more often, and 40% said the same thing in Germany. The majority of respondents believed that good hygiene will protect them from the virus, according to the survey.4

This belief aligns with WHO recommendations for the public, which include hand-washing, cough and sneeze etiquette, and avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.1

In health care facilities, WHO recommends enhancing standard infection prevention and control practices, especially in emergency departments.1

“This is a shared threat,” Adhanom said. “We can only face it together, and we can only overcome it together.”2


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  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report 34. World Health Organization; February 23, 2020. Accessed February 24, 2020.
  • World Health Organization Daily Media Briefing, February 24, 2020. Accessed February 24, 2020.
  • Allyn B. Officials Scramble to Contain Coronavirus Outbreaks In South Korea, Iran And Italy. National Public Radio; February 23, 2020. Accessed February 24, 2020.
  • Survey Finds That 77 Percent of People Are Concerned About the Coronavirus Outbreak and 50 Percent Have Changes Hygiene Behaviors [news release]. Slough, England; February 24, 2020: PR Newswire. Accessed February 24, 2020.

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