What It Means That WHO Is Calling COVID-19 A Pandemic

What It Means That WHO Is Calling COVID-19 A Pandemic

Until just now, the World Health Organisation did not want to call COVID-19 a pandemic. Today they decided to start using that word.

While this step was much anticipated, it’s purely symbolic. Weeks ago they declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern,” or PHEIC, which is the official designation relevant to international health regulations.

“Pandemics are not ‘declared,’” Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said at today’s press conference. “This is a description.”

Recently, many people have been wondering why the organisation didn’t want to use the word. The WHO regularly explained in briefings that the virus is still containable and they’re trying to encourage countries to prevent it from becoming a pandemic. This choice of wording was controversial among public health people, but now that argument is over. Today, the disease seems to have crossed a threshold even for WHO.

What changes as a result? Not much, really. The organisation is still encouraging countries to take appropriate measures depending on how many cases they have and what their health systems are able to handle. If there are only a few cases, for example, it’s most efficient to track down contacts of people who were infected. If the virus has spread in the community such that we don’t know who might have it, social distancing like cancelling large gatherings becomes an important focus.

Bottom line, everybody from governments and companies down to individuals should be taking action to prevent spread of the disease, to reduce the burden on health systems, and to keep social, economic, and human rights concerns in mind. Because, after all, we’re all in this together.

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