Coronavirus has been officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
A pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations, according to the body.
It comes after the organisation declared the outbreak a “global public health emergency” at the end of January, when there were fewer than 100 cases of Covid-19 outside China and eight cases of human-to-human transmission of the disease.
Now there are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 people have died, with the numbers expected to climb. Australia has 112 confirmed cases.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who heads the UN agency, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) is “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the outbreak.
He also expressed concern about “the alarming levels of inaction” and appealed to affected countries to “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise” to prevent the Covid-19 outbreak worsening.
“We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he told a briefing in Geneva.
The Covid-19 outbreak which originated in Wuhan, China, has now spread to every country in western Europe.
Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
He added: “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time. WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases.
“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
The coronavirus has spread around the world, halting industry, bringing flights to a standstill, closing schools and forcing the postponement of sporting events and concerts.
The WHO no longer has a category for declaring a pandemic, except for influenza.
The agency’s officials have signalled for weeks that they may use the word “pandemic” as an descriptive term but stressed that it does not carry legal significance. The novel coronavirus is not the flu.
Under its previous system, the Geneva-based agency declared the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak a pandemic. It turned out to be mild, leading to some criticism after pharmaceutical companies rushed development of vaccines and drugs.