Why the World Health Organization isn’t calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic

Business, Health, International, News 17 February, 2020

Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the organization is still not classifying the coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic.”

“I think we need to be extremely cautious in using the term ‘pandemic.’ We had lots of controversies during the H1N1 situation, around when it was pandemic and when it wasn’t pandemic, and I think we need to be careful,” Ryan said.

Ryan continued:

“The real issue here is whether we’re seeing efficient community transmission outside of China. And at the present time, we’re not observing that. And as such, we’re not in a position to have that discussion. What we’re seeing is, again, as we’ve said previously, the majority of cases outside China have a direct link still back to China. And of that transmission that’s occurred in countries outside China, the majority of that transmission can be traced through existing transmission chains. So therefore I think we have to be very, very careful not to drive fear in the world right now, and be very cautious in using the words you have used. We’ve said that the risk is very high in China, it’s high regionally and it’s high around the world. That is not, ‘the risk is high of a pandemic.’ The risk is high that the disease may spread further, and I think at face value, that is true.”

Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of WHO’s Infectious Hazards Management Department, agreed, adding, “The difficulty with certain words is that their interpretation varies, and for [the] general public, very often ‘pandemic’ is really the worst-case scenario. And so I think we need, before qualifying the event as the worst-case scenario, we need a lot more evidence and a lot more data. And so that’s why I think we need to be cautious, because it can really create panic unnecessarily.”