The World Health Organization, which has repeatedly declined to designate the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, finally did so on Mar 11 at a press conference with director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We have made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” Tedros said. “In the last two weeks the number of COVID-19 cases outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. In the coming weeks we expect to see the number of infections, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.”

COVID-19 has infected at least 121,564 people worldwide with 4,373 deaths (as of Mar 11, 2030 UTC), according to Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The virus has now spread to 109 countries outside China, with approximately 40,500 of those cases international. Additional infections have been reported in other territories, including Channel Islands (UK), Gibraltar (UK), Faroe Islands (DEN), Martinique (FRA), Northern Ireland (UK), Saint Barthélemy (FRA), and Saint Martin (FRA). [The WHO has reported 114 affected countries but has not yet supplied an updated individual list of those nations.]

Tedros said that simply looking at the numbers of infections and number of countries affected does not tell the whole story. “Over 90% of the infections occur in just four countries. And two of them — China and South Korea — have rapidly declining epidemics.” he said. “Eighty-one countries have not reported any cases, while 57 have reported 10 cases or less.”

He said that designating the virus as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat, its actions, or what countries should do to contain it. “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It’s a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering or death.”

He stressed that it was not too late to stifle the COVID-19 spread. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those countries can prevent cases from becoming clusters, and clusters from becoming community transmission,” Tedros said.

“Even those countries with community transmission or larger clusters can turn the tide on this virus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled. The challenge for many countries dealing with large cluster is not whether they can do the same, it’s whether they will. Some countries are struggling with lack of capacity, some with a lack of resources, and some with a lack of resolve.”

Watch the full press conference here:

Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIH. Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. isolated from a patient in the US, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab.