You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic

CNBC logo CNBC 2020-03-11 Berkeley Lovelace Jr.
  • The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a global pandemic as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the world.
  • WHO officials have been reluctant up until now to categorize the virus as such.
  • Declaring a pandemic is charged with major political and economic ramifications, global health experts say.
a man in a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus R speaks at a daily briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 2, 2020. © Provided by CNBC World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus R speaks at a daily briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 2, 2020.

A message from MSN Canada:

To help those affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus, MSN For Good, powered by Microsoft News, is bringing the plight of people affected by this illness around the world to your attention. Find out more about the Canadian Red Cross efforts and please donate to the campaign here.

Please be generous.  

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic as the new coronavirus, which was unknown to world health officials just three months ago, has rapidly spread to more than 121,000 people from Asia, to Europe, the Middle East and now parts of the United States.

WHO officials have been reluctant up until now to categorize the virus as a global pandemic, which is generally defined as an illness that spreads far and wide throughout the world. 

Declaring a pandemic is charged with major political and economic ramifications, global health experts say. It can further rattle already fragile world markets and lead to more stringent travel and trade restrictions.

WHO officials needed to "make it clear" that the world was in the midst of a pandemic, Lawrence Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said. He added it would continue to be a distraction until they did declare it.

It "is clear" the new coronavirus has been a pandemic and WHO was "behind the curve," Gostin told CNBC.

The number of cases and deaths changes by the hour, topping 121,564 with at least 4,373 deaths across the world as of Wednesday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Outside China, 32,778 cases across at least 109 countries had been confirmed as of 3 a.m. EDT Tuesday — up from four cases in three countries on Jan. 21, according to the most recent data confirmed by WHO, which tallies the world's official case count. 

While the virus is slowing in China where it originated in December, it's picking up pace across other parts of the world. Italy has the most cases outside of China with roughly 10,149 infections, followed closely behind by Iran with 9,000 infections and South Korea with 7,775, according to JHU data. In the U.S., cases erupted over the last week to more than 1,050 spread across at least 36 states, according to JHU.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously said the organization wasn't declaring a pandemic, in part, because most cases of coronavirus were still traced to known contacts or clusters of cases, and there wasn't any "evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities."

"Unless we're convinced it's uncontrollable, why ... call it a pandemic?" he told reporters last week. 

The organization raised its risk assessment level on the virus to its highest level of alert last month.

"This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready,"  Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program, said during a press briefing on Feb. 28. 

—CNBC's Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this article. 

This news is breaking. Please check back for updates.


AdChoices
AdChoices

More from CNBC

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon