Enlarge /. The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, will hold a press conference on February 24, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on the situation regarding COVID-19.
As outbreaks of the new corona virus flare up in several countries outside of China, experts from the World Health Organization tried on Monday to curb fears and media speculation that the public health emergency could become a pandemic.
"I have spoken consistently about the need for facts, not fear," said WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press conference on Monday. "The use of the word" pandemic "doesn't fit the facts now, but it can certainly cause fear."
As always, the director general (who goes from Dr. Tedros) and his colleagues at WHO tried to avert the conversation from speculation and worst-case scenarios. Instead, they want to focus on data and preparation. Dr. However, Tedros notes that some of the recent epidemic numbers are "deeply worrying".
Since last week, officials in several countries, including South Korea, Iran and Italy, have reported a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, February 24, South Korea has confirmed 763 cases and 7 deaths – a dramatic increase from the 30 cases and zero deaths reported a week ago.
The situation in Italy also rose from three cases early last week to 124 confirmed cases and two deaths on Monday. Iran rose from zero to 43 cases over the same period and reported eight deaths.
The numbers led to numerous media reports over the weekend speculating whether the new outbreak of the corona virus was or would become a pandemic. At the moment, said Dr. Tedros, it is not.
"Our decision to use the word" pandemic "to describe an epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the virus's geographic distribution, the severity of the disease it causes, and its impact on society as a whole," he said. "We are currently not experiencing an uncontrolled global spread of this virus, and we are not experiencing major illnesses or deaths on a large scale."
Dr. Tedros summarized some of the latest data on cases and diseases from China and found that the number of cases there has been declining and has decreased since February 2.
In Wuhan, where the outbreak began in December, the COVID-19 death rate appears to be between 2 and 4 percent. US experts have found that this high death rate is due in part to the fact that the outbreak of health systems in the city was extremely overwhelming and the facilities no longer have adequate medical care.
Outside of Wuhan, the COVID-19 death rate in China is around 0.7 percent, said Dr. Tedros. However, many public health experts have suggested that even this figure could be higher than the actual death rate because many mild, non-fatal cases may not have been counted. If they were counted, they would water down the death toll, which would result in a lower death rate.
In people with mild infections – over 80 percent of cases, according to Chinese data – recovery takes about two weeks. More serious infections can take three to six weeks to recover.
Dr. Tedros also reported that the corona virus itself does not appear to be mutated.
"The key message that should give hope, courage and confidence to all countries is that this virus can be contained," said Dr. Tedros on the latest assessment from China.
"Does this virus have a pandemic potential? It absolutely did. Are we already there? In our estimation not yet. "
Tomorrow, a team of experts from WHO and China will announce further details of a technical report on the situation, including 22 recommendations on how to best combat the epidemic.
As of Monday, there are over 79,400 cases worldwide with 2,622 deaths. The vast majority of cases and deaths are in China. Approximately 2,100 cases and 23 deaths are spread across 31 countries outside of China as well as the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.
Also on Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the number of cases in the country from 34 on Friday to 53 today. The jump is largely due to an increase in cases among Diamond Princess repatriated passengers. The number of cases among these travelers rose from 18 to 36.
All cases in the United States have been travel-related or affect people who have been returned from outbreak areas and have therefore already been classified as at risk.
The risk to the general American public is still considered low at this point. However, the CDC has announced that cases will continue to be identified and that community-wide spread may occur. According to the agency, it works with state and local health systems to prepare for this possibility.