WHO Raises Global COVID-19 Risk to Highest Level

Bako, John Chukwudi

The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the global COVID-19 risk to its highest level yesterday, as cases surged in three hot spots outside China, which are quickly spreading the virus to other countries, with many more—such as Nigeria and Mexico—reporting their first cases.

At a media briefing on Friday February 28th 2020, WHO officials said the rapid spread of the virus does not meet the definition of a pandemic, which would imply every human will likely be exposed. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO’s director-general, said 24 cases in 14 countries have been exported from Italy and 97 cases in 11 countries have been exported from Iran. He said the growing number of cases and affected countries is clearly a concern.

But he urged countries not to give up hope on containing the virus, pointing to promising trends in China and Singapore that resulted from strict application of basic public health practices, such as finding and breaking transmission chains. Different scenarios are playing out in different countries, even within different countries, he said. For example, Tedros noted though there are hot spots, there are also 23 countries that still have just one case, plus a number of them with 10 or less.

Calling the epidemic a pandemic would signal a shift from containment to mitigation, WHO officials said yesterday. Tedros said there’s still a window for containment, but it is getting narrower and narrower by the day. He said there are 10 things individuals can do, such as washing hands frequently, cleaning surfaces regularly, avoiding travel while sick, and calling ahead before coming into a clinic.

In other WHO developments yesterday, officials published a written report of the WHO-led joint mission to China and said a WHO mission to investigate Iran’s outbreak is having a tough time booking travel arrangements, but with help from the United Arab Emirates hopes to arrive by Monday.

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