Coronavirus outbreak not yet a pandemic: WHO, Latest World News - The New Paper

Coronavirus outbreak not yet a pandemic: WHO

This article is more than 12 months old

People wearing masks but not taking precautions like washing hands could have a 'false sense of security'

GENEVA The World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday that the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, which has spread from China to two dozen countries, does not yet constitute a "pandemic".

Ms Sylvie Briand, director of WHO's infectious hazards management department, told reporters in Geneva that instead "we are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci".

A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease, according to the WHO.

The disease has killed more than 427 people (including one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines) and infected a further 20,000 in China, nearly all of them in central Hubei province - the epicentre of the outbreak. It has spread to two dozen countries since it emerged in December.

Ms Briand said while there is a rapid spread of transmission in Hubei, outside the province there are mainly "spillover cases" with sporadic clusters of transmission.

"In these other places in China, the strategy currently is to stop transmission," she said, adding that the same was true for affected countries outside of China.

"We would like to make sure that we don't have a second Hubei type of scenario."

The authorities in China have taken dramatic measures to halt transmission, while other affected countries have put in place steps to rein in the spread.

"Countries are implementing early case detection, early isolation and treatment of patients, contact tracing to make sure they identify very early contacts that become symptomatic," Ms Briand said.

"We hope that based on... measures in Hubei but also in other places where we have had spillover, we can stop transmission and get rid of this virus."

She acknowledged that halting the spread of the new pneumonia-like virus would be "challenging" but believes it "can be done".

The respiratory disease spreads through droplets, for instance when people sneeze or cough, or likely through direct contact with infected people or with objects they have touched.

But Ms Briand said it remained unclear how long the virus could linger on an object, stressing the need for frequent hand washing to protect against transmission.

"To stop transmission of this virus, it is very important that sick people wear masks" to avoid infecting others, she said, adding though the benefits of healthy people wearing masks as a precautionary measure were less clear.

People wearing masks but not taking other precautions such as frequently washing their hands could have a "false sense of security", she said.


"Masks alone are not enough. It is a package of measures that you have to put in place," she said.

"If people use the entire package, it is fine. If they just use masks, I think it is not enough."

In a related development, WHO is having a teleconference this week with travel and tourism industry representatives to work on recommendations on protecting their crews so they can resume flights to China, a senior official said yesterday.

"Crews for those companies are really scared of being infected, when in flight they have really close contact with passengers and they feel at risk," Ms Briand said.

"That is why we need to define with those companies specific recommendations so their staff feel secure, feel protected as well so that they can resume flying to China," she said. - AFP