Pandemic meaning: Coronavirus status upgraded – What is a pandemic? What does it mean?

The total number of coronavirus cases across the world has exceeded 120,000, and 4,373 people have died. The virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) today (March 11).

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a press conference in Geneva today: “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.

“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.

“It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”


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Dr Ghebreyesus added affected countries must “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise” to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak from getting worse.

He said: “We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.

“If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilise their people in their response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters and those clusters becoming community transmission.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) had refrained from labelling the latest coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic until today. 

As of March 11, more than 120,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across the world.

The majority of cases have been reported in China, and Italy follows with 10,149 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Iran has recorded 9,000 cases of the virus, and South Korea has also been badly hit by the outbreak, reporting 7,755 cases. 

In the UK, 456 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and six patients who tested positive have died.


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Earlier this week WHO officials acknowledged the virus outbreak had the potential to become a pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference on Monday: “Now that the coronavirus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real.”

He added: “It would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.

“The bottom line is we are not at the mercy of the virus.”

What is a pandemic?

There is not a clear, set definition in place for defining a pandemic.

The World Health Organization defines the term as “an outbreak of a new pathogen that spreads easily from person to person across the globe”.

An outbreak usually becomes a pandemic when there is sustained person-to-person transmission of the disease around the world.

The word ‘pandemic’ stems from the Greek word pan, meaning all, and demos, meaning people.

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