Coronavirus Declared Pandemic by World Health Organization

Date: Thursday, March 12, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

U.S. cases top 1,100; Germany’s Merkel warns of broader spread of virus

The spread of the new coronavirus has reached a pandemic, spanning 112 countries and regions, the World Health Organization declared, as disruptions to daily life ricocheted around the world.

The WHO generally defines a pandemic as a disease that has become widespread around the world, with an impact on society. The term has been applied to only a few diseases in history—a deadly flu in 1918, the H1N1 flu in 2009 and HIV/AIDS among them.

“We’re deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus.”

Italy ordered all shops except for food stores and pharmacies to close, deepening its nationwide lockdown. Large gatherings were banned in many cities. Additional schools closed. Among the marquee events in the U.S. that won’t happen as scheduled: Chicago’s and New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parades and the Coachella and South by Southwest festivals.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournaments will be played with no fans. The National Basketball Association suspended its season. Major League Baseball teams might relocate to different cities.

U.S. stocks dropped sharply Wednesday on anxiety about the economic fallout. The Bank of England slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point Wednesday morning, matching a cut last week by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

By Wednesday afternoon, global confirmed cases had grown to 124,663, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed. More than 4,500 people have died.

Still, Dr. Tedros said, the new coronavirus can be stopped if governments move swiftly and decisively. “This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time.”

The pandemic label doesn’t require new WHO recommendations. But the move could get more resources to a rapidly worsening situation, some health experts said.

“I hope that it adds urgency to efforts to mitigate it, because those efforts need urgency,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

On a call with reporters, Dr. Lipsitch said he believes there are thousands of people in the U.S. infected with the new coronavirus who haven’t been tested. There were 1,135 confirmed cases in the U.S. Wednesday evening, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins. The death toll grew to at least 36.

Public-health leaders, businesses and individuals should move more aggressively to prevent further spread rather than focusing on containing known clusters, Dr. Lipsitch said. That means canceling more large gatherings, reducing travel, implementing policies that encourage people to stay home when sick and otherwise reducing social contact such as handshaking.

On Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said events with 1,000 or more people would be prohibited, Rhode Island urged residents not to organize or attend events with 250 or more people and Kentucky’s governor became the first in the nation to publicly call on churches to cancel services this Sunday.

“I don’t believe that whether you go to church during this time is a test of faith,” Gov. Andy Beshear said.

In Washington state, the site of one of the largest outbreaks in the country, where cases grew to 366 Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee moved to prohibit gatherings of 250 people or more across three counties. And King County, where at least 234 people have tested positive and 26 have died, plans were made to ban events with even fewer attendees unless they meet certain health guidelines.

“Our state needs a more vigorous and more comprehensive and more aggressive position if we are going to slow the spread of this epidemic,” Mr. Inslee said.

Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district with 104 campuses and more than 53,600 students, said it would close all schools for at least 14 days, starting Thursday. Last week, Northshore School District in the city’s northern suburbs directed students to stay home—a measure, officials said Wednesday, that has so far proved effective.

The moves follow similar containment measures in Europe and Asia.

China, where the outbreak began in December, has all but declared victory over the disease as the number of new cases has dropped sharply after the country’s hard-line response to the pathogen. China’s National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 24 new infections, 10 of them imported—highlighting how the epidemic has evolved and shifted.

Iran confirmed 63 new deaths, the highest single-day toll there since the new coronavirus appeared three weeks ago, as total infections reached 9,000. Japan reported its second-biggest one-day rise in confirmed cases thus far, taking the country’s total to 568. South Korea—trailing only China, Italy and Iran in cases—reported 242 more Wednesday, bringing its total to 7,755.

In Italy, where the largest outbreak outside of China pushed the country to implement an unprecedented nationwide quarantine, the number of cases climbed Wednesday to 12,462, with 827 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. France’s confirmed cases jumped by 500 Wednesday to 2,281, Health Minister Olivier Véran said, with 48 total deaths and 105 people in intensive care. In Germany, cases increased to 1,908 and officials said they expected the number to rise.

“As long as there is no immunity in the population, no vaccines and no therapy, then a high percentage of the population—experts say 60% to 70%—will become infected,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Roughly 80% of cases of Covid-19—the illness caused by the novel coronavirus—tend to be mild or moderate, and more than 66,000 people globally have recovered. But those who are older or have underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, are at a higher risk.


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