WHO characterised coronavirus as pandemic

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The World Health Organization has characterised the outbreak of the new coronavirus as a pandemic, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” he told a news conference.

The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December, 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 declared a public health emergency of international concern, its highest level of alarm, on January 30 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, Tedros said, with the numbers expected to climb.

The WHO no longer has a category for declaring a pandemic, except for influenza. WHO officials have signalled for weeks that they may use the word ‘pandemic’ as a descriptive term but stressed that it does not carry legal significance.

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. In Pakistan, the second coronavirus case of Gilgit-Baltistan was reported on Wednesday, raising the tally to 20.

According to Gilgit-Baltistan government spokesperson, a 14-year-old boy was diagnosed with novel coronavirus at a hospital in Skardu. The patient hails from Skardu.

A Pakistani coronavirus patient in Italy died on Wednesday, a spokesperson of the Foreign Office said. The Pakistani national passed away in Brescia, about a 100 kilometres from Milan, the spokesperson said. The Pakistani consulate in Italy is in touch with the concerned family, as well as the authorities in Rome, the spokesperson added.

Chinese Consul General in Karachi Li Bijian Wednesday advised authorities in Sindh to extend the closure of schools and ban big gatherings in the city after a spike in coronavirus cases. “The local government of Sindh shall be advised to take more strong preventive measures including calling off big gatherings and extension of the closing of the schools to save more lives,” said Li in a tweet. He urged the Sindh government to take action as the spread of the virus is quick and actual. However, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said schools across the province will reopen on March 16 (Monday) but the matter will come under discussion in another meeting on Thursday (today). “The schools will reopen if the condition does not worsen,” he said, adding, “We are reviewing the conditions on a daily basis and are monitoring it very closely.”

The visa section of Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul was also closed after symptoms of coronavirus found in a staff member on Wednesday. The embassy worker has been quarantined as a precautionary measure. The facility for diagnosis of the novel coronavirus is not available in Afghanistan.

Elsewhere in the world, Kuwait will suspend all commercial flights leaving from and arriving at Kuwait City International Airport from Friday until further notice to forestall the spread of coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday. The country will ‘forbid’ its residents meeting in ‘restaurants, cafes and commercial centres’, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) said.

Qatar said on Wednesday it has recorded 238 new coronavirus cases among individuals already under quarantine in one residential compound, taking the country’s total tally to 262. The individuals, all expatriates, reside in the same compound as three people who had been diagnosed with the virus on Sunday, the health ministry said on its Twitter account.

Thailand will temporarily suspend issuing visas on arrival to visitors from 19 countries and territories, including China, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reports the interior minister as having said on Wednesday. Visa on Arrival will be suspended for nationals of all 19 countries and territories previously eligible, including Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Malta, Mexico, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, and Vanuatu, according to a list provided to reporters by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The death toll in Iran from the new coronavirus climbed for another consecutive day, killing 63 more people in the past 24 hours as the government on Wednesday raised the nationwide death toll to 354. Iran’s health ministry said the deaths are among some 9,000 confirmed cases in Iran, where the virus has spread to all of the country’s provinces. The Islamic Republic has one of the world’s worst death tolls outside of China, the epicentre of the outbreak. Outside of Iran, only Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon have recorded deaths from the virus in the Middle East.

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