The coronavirus outbreak was Wednesday declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose chief expressed his “deep concern” over “alarming levels of inaction” in combating the virus spread.
WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold over the past two weeks.
However, he clarified that the labelling of it as a pandemic, or disease spreading in multiple countries around the world simultaneously, did not mean the WHO was changing its advice about what countries should do and he called on governments to change the course of the outbreak by taking “urgent and aggressive action”, the BBC reported.
“Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will,” he said, noting that the governments had to “strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimising disruption and respecting human life”.
There are now over 118,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in 114 countries around the world.
The WHO continues to closely monitor spread of the virus said Tedros Adhanom during the announcement. “We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said. “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.”
There are large outbreaks of the virus in Italy, South Korea, and the United States. In the US, the slow rollout of testing and limited testing capacity has crippled response to the disease.
The spread of the virus can still be controlled, Adhanom said. He pointed to both China and South Korea, where outbreaks appear to be declining. “It’s doable.”
A pandemic is the “worldwide spread of a new disease,” according to the WHO. There are no cut-and-dry criteria for what reaches the level of pandemic and what does not, and there is no threshold of cases or deaths that triggers the definition.
The WHO classified the novel coronavirus as a global public health emergency on January 30th. Until now, they’ve been reluctant to call the outbreak a pandemic over concerns that it would incite unnecessary panic, though they’d been warning countries to prepare for a pandemic.
“Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear,” Adhanom said at a press briefing at the end of February. “What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world affecting different countries in different ways.”
Countries around the world, including in the US, have already been leaning on pandemic preparedness plans to respond to outbreaks of the new coronavirus.
The last time the WHO declared a pandemic was during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, which infected nearly a quarter of the world’s population. However, that decision was criticized for creating unnecessary panic. SARS was not considered a pandemic, despite affecting people in 26 countries, and neither was MERS.
Meanwhile, In the wake of coronavirus threat, the government ordered the suspension of teaching and classwork in all schools, colleges and universities, and closure of Anganwari centres in J&K till 31 March 2020. However, the board and other competitive examinations shall be conducted as per schedule.
Director of National Health Mission (NHM), Bhupinder Kumar said this today at a press conference. Director Information and Public Relations Dr Syed Sehrish Asgar and Nodal Officer, Coronavirus, Dr Shafqat Khan were present on the occasion.
“All educational institutions, private as well as public, including schools, colleges and universities in J&K shall suspend their teaching and classwork and all Anganwari centres shall remain closed till March 31. However, the board and other competitive examinations shall be conducted as per schedule,” Director, NHM said.
Spelling out measures being taken up to control and prevent the spread of this Virus, Kumar informed that control rooms and surveillance teams have been constituted in all the districts of UT besides two Corona-Virus lab testing facilities have already been made functional in SKIMS, Srinagar and GMC, Jammu.
Giving a detailed break up about the Coronavirus suspected cases in UT of J&K till date, he said that 1,211 travellers and persons in contact with suspected cases have been put under active surveillance; 150 of them have completed surveillance period of 28 days while as 12 are undergoing hospital quarantine.
Kumar said that 64 samples of suspected cases have been sent for testing so far; 28 have reported negative, 1 has tested positive and report of 35 is awaited.
Urging people to contribute in tackling the situation, he appealed all incoming passengers returning to J&K having travel history to China, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Japan, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Iran, Malaysia, France, Spain and Germany to undergo self-imposed quarantine for a period of 14 days from the date of their arrival.
Kumar said the government has urged citizens especially those with travel history to affected countries such as China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, etc. to “self declare immediately and to report to the nearest government health facility if any symptoms are found”.
Kumar maintained that novel coronavirus has no definite treatment so prevention is best and every person has a capacity to contribute in this situation.
He urged the public to maintain social distance and avoid unnecessary travel and use of public transport. He reiterated that citizens must take basic precautions such as personal hygiene, hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquettes and must avoid touching of the face, eyes, nose and also report any symptoms (fever, difficult breathing and cough) to the medical authorities immediately in order to contain the virus.
The government also advised people not to panic and to rely on the information released by the government in this regard.
Meanwhile, Nodal Officer for Coronavirus Control, Dr Shafqat Khan said there was no “second positive case of Covid-19 in Jammu”.