Now WHO declares new coronavirus as “pandemic”, what does that mean?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday evening has declared the new coronavirus – COVID-19 as pandemic, urging countries to “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people”.

What is a pandemic?

Declaring a pandemic has nothing to do with changes to the characteristics of a disease, but is instead associated with concerns over its geographic spread. According to the WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.

“The change of term does not alter anything practically as the world has been advised for the last few weeks to prepare for a potential pandemic, which has hopefully been taken seriously by all countries.” Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer King’s College London, told The Guardian on Thursday.

“The use of this term however highlights the importance of countries throughout the world working cooperatively and openly with one another and coming together as a united front in our efforts to bring this situation under control.” MacDermott added.

How does the WHO decide to call a disease a pandemic or not?

Cases, which involve travellers being infected in a foreign country and then returned to their home country, or being infected by that traveller, known as the “index case”, would not count towards declaring a pandemic.

However, there requires be a second wave of infection from person to person throughout the community.

Once a pandemic is declared, it becomes more likely that community spread will eventually take place, and governments and health systems are required to ensure they are prepared.

On the other hand, an epidemic is a sudden increase in cases of an illness or disease that can be unique to one country or community.

When can WHO declare a disease as a pandemic?

The WHO gets the final word according to a certain number of deaths or infections, or number of countries affected.

For instance, the WHO had not declared the outbreak of SARS coronavirus, identified in 2003, as pandemic, despite affecting 26 countries. Its spread was contained quickly, and only a handful of nations were substantially affected; China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Canada.

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