• The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak. Streamed live at 17.10 CET on Wednesday 11 March.
  • The WHO officially declared the virus a pandemic after weeks of speculation.
  • This could be the first pandemic that could be controlled.

Coronavirus is officially a pandemic.

That was the message from today's World Health Organization briefing, a regular update for journalists on the work still to be done to fight coronavirus.

As cases had spread, the agency had been reluctant to name the virus a pandemic, saying it did not want to stoke panic. In past briefings, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said only that the virus had “pandemic potential.”

But given the growing spread of the disease, the WHO felt the "pandemic" label was now appropriate. Currently, there are more than 121,564 coronavirus cases worldwide. The virus has killed at least 4,373 people across the globe, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"We’re in this together."

—Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

Stil, the WHO Director-General was reluctant to let the word “pandemic” distract from the fact that the virus could still be controlled. He said, “There is so much attention to that word. Other words matter more: Prevention, preparedness, political leadership and people."

The briefing was clear to stress that “pandemic” described the characterization of the spread of the disease but that it didn’t change the steps that could still be taken by businesses, governments and individuals.

Importantly, he said, this will be the first pandemic that can be controlled, repeating a message he'd given in previous briefings. He explained that more than 90% of all reported coronavirus cases are in just four countries. Furthermore, he said, 81 countries do not have any cases and that 57 countries have reported 10 cases or fewer.

“This virus can be suppressed and controlled.”

The question, he said, is whether it will be, since many countries are still challenged by capacity, resources, or resolve.

To help manage the virus, individuals must take care not to stock up on supplies such as masks and gloves that are needed by healthcare workers. Additionally, hospitals must find ways to increase capacity, prepare labs, train workers and innovate.

Each individual and leader has a responsibility to help slow the spread of the virus, Ghebreyesus explained. "This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector - so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight."

He added: “We’re in this together.”