"The worst is yet to come"
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that in the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.
He also said we can expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher in the days and weeks ahead.
Tedros said this is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. He also said it is the first time they have declared a pandemic at a point when it is still possible to bring it under control.
Over the past week, infections have rapidly spread across Europe. WHO officials say the European Union has been pressing the organization to refer to the outbreak as a pandemic.
The outbreak spreads worldwide
According to the WHO, 118,000 cases have been reported across more than 110 countries and territories. The death toll was approaching 4,300 on March 11. WHO Director-General Tedros said 90 percent of people infected are in China, Italy, Iran or South Korea.
Italy saw the number of cases jump by about 2,300 to 12,462 on Wednesday. The death toll there has topped 820. Infections have been spreading especially rapidly in the country's north.
Professor Roberto Burioni, an expert on virology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, says hospitals in northern Italy are becoming overwhelmed, and he described it as a very dangerous situation.
In Iran, there have been 9,000 reported infections and the death toll has topped 350. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies program said there is a shortage of protective gear, ventilators and oxygen in Iran and the situation is very serious.
In South Korea, where over 7,800 cases have been confirmed, it was revealed yesterday that at least 93 people linked to a call center in Seoul have tested positive. It is reportedly the largest outbreak in the capital, and occurred days after the country said the rate of new infections was declining.
US is in hurry for the preventive measures
In the US, where at least 900 cases have been reported, and 29 people have died, authorities declared a state of emergency in Washington DC on Wednesday, freeing the government to provide emergency funding, order medical quarantines, and crack down on price gauging for medical supplies.
And after the WHO declared it a pandemic, US President Trump said the US will suspend all passenger travel from Europe for 30 days, beginning Friday at midnight. He also announced financial relief measures for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others.
How will the declaration affect Japan?
The Japanese government was already restricting entry of people from parts of China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, and all of San Marino. And two weeks ago it asked local authorities to close schools and cancel events.
But with the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games less than 20 weeks away, the declaration of a "pandemic" is another headache for the organizers.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Thursday that she can't say the declaration will have no impact, but she says she fully expects the games to go ahead.