COVID-19 is officially a pandemic: What that means and why it isn’t as hopeless as it sounds

This blog is part of a series relating to the economic impacts of the COVID-19, novel coronavirus outbreak of 2020.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) (quoted throughout), has officially named the COVID-19 virus a pandemic in a speech delivered late last week. What does this mean? The word pandemic refers to the geographical spread of the virus more than its virulence or mortality rate. According to them the use of this word now does not change their perception of the level of threat this disease represents. Pandemic is a word they have hesitated to use prematurely due to the fear and panic it can evoke and also the feelings of resignation and hopelessness it can engender. However, given the rapid spread of the disease and the alarming amount of inaction some countries are taking, they have determined it is now appropriate to characterise it as such. Quoting the Director-General: “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.” 

However, he went on to describe that more than 90% of all cases were still in the primary impacted regions of Iran, Italy, China and South Korea and that there were declining trends in  the latter two countries. The overwhelming tone of the speech was not one of despair but rather a clarion call to the global community. The Director-General reiterated the need for countries to take “urgent and aggressive action” and stated that, as demonstrated, this pandemic could still be suppressed and controlled, for many countries “it is not a matter of if they can control it, but rather if they will”

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

The message from the WHO is that this is a public health crisis but it will touch every sector of society and so every sector of society must be involved in the fight. 

“First, prepare and be ready. Second, detect, protect and treat. Third, reduce transmission. Fourth, innovate and learn. Find, isolate, test and treat every case and trace every contact; Ready your hospitals; Protect and train your health workers. 

And let’s all look out for each other, because we need each other.

There’s been so much attention on one word. Let me give you some other words that matter much more, and that are much more actionable.

Prevention. 

Preparedness. 

Public health.

Political leadership. 

And most of all, people. We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.”

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