The World Health Organization (W.H.O) has called the Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 a pandemic on Wednesday, issuing a grim warning that the global spread and severity of the illness was due to "alarming levels of inaction".
The call came as Europe faced a mounting number of cases — including a slew of new countries clocking first deaths — prompting governments to roll out increasingly tough measures to slow the rapid spread of the virus.
The number of cases across the globe has risen to more than 124,000 with 4,500 deaths, including a jump in fatalities particularly in Iran and Italy, according to a tally by news agency AFP.
The majority of cases have been in China where the outbreak first emerged in December, but as the number of new infections has steadied in the country, hotspots have emerged elsewhere — namely Italy, Iran and Spain.
What is a pandemic?
The threat of pandemic is ever-present. A pandemic can arise when a new virus that hasn't affected humans before emerges, spreads and causes illness in humans. Viruses are unpredictable – scientists can never be certain of when or from where the next pandemic will arise. However, a pandemic is inevitable in this interconnected world. The question is not if the world will have another pandemic, but when.
Because the world is connected, collaboration is key to the ensuring the world's preparedness for a pandemic. The W.H.O, countries and partners work together to achieve goals and align global and national capacities for prevention, rapid detection and response.
The head of the UN's top health body for the first time characterised the outbreak as a pandemic, meaning it is spreading in several regions through local transmission. "We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday, adding that the declaration would not change the organisation's response to the outbreak.
"We're deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."
He did not single out any nations for not doing enough — or what further measures were needed. He instead called on "countries to take urgent and aggressive action".