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World Health Organization insists coronavirus is not a pandemic… yet

Published Feb 5th, 2020 9:10PM EST
coronavirus update
Image: Kin Cheung/AP/Shutterstock

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The Wuhan coronavirus is dominating headlines the world over. Hundreds have died, tens of thousands are infected, and cases have popped up all over the world. It’s bad, but how bad is it? Well, apparently it’s not bad enough for the World Health Organization to declare it a pandemic, and now they’re explaining why.

During a recent press conference, Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of the World Health Organization’s Infectious Hazards Management Department explained why the group doesn’t consider the coronavirus outbreak to be serious enough warrant the label of “pandemic.”

“We are not in a pandemic,” Dr. Briand said at the press conference. “We will try to extinguish the transmission in each of these,” but noting that keeping a lid on the outbreak “can be done with containment measures currently in place.”

Put simply, WHO doesn’t believe the current numbers of infected individuals, the rate of new exposures, and the speed at which the virus is spreading are bad enough to declare it a true pandemic. The “measures currently in place” include things like airport screenings, quarantines for confirmed cases of infection, and lockdowns of cities in China where the virus seems to be spreading most rapidly.

It’s no secret that China’s Wuhan province is the epicenter of the outbreak, but determining exactly how the virus began to spread has proven difficult for scientists. Early on, workers at a seafood market were believed to have contracted the virus from some animal, but later reports suggested that animals including snakes and bats might have been responsible.

WHO still believes that the spread of the virus can be halted if current containment measures are followed, though we have no way of knowing if that’s possible. There’s also been a fair amount of criticism regarding the reporting of the size of the outbreak from within China, where many believe the true infection numbers are far direr than has been publicly stated.

Whatever the case, let’s hope WHO knows what it’s talking about, because watching the virus creep slowly across the globe isn’t particularly reassuring.