Global news network CNN has begun using the term “pandemic” to describe the COVID-19 outbreak, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) still declining to label it as such.
To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 118,000 people in 116 countries, affecting all continents except Antartica. While more than 65,000 have recovered worldwide, the virus has caused more than 4,200 fatalities and is continuing to spread at a disconcerting rate.
The UN’s health agency has not yet declared the outbreak a pandemic, which they have previously defined as a situation in which a new virus is causing “sustained community-level outbreaks” in at least two world regions.
Scientists and experts argue that the criteria for a pandemic has already been met—the disease, which originated in China, has reached every continent of the globe with the exception of Antartica, and is spreading rapidly through four regions.
The WHO has also still not labelled the ongoing outbreak as a pandemic, which they define as “the worldwide spread of a new disease”.
“Unless we’re convinced it’s uncontrollable, why [would] we call it a pandemic?” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week.
The geographic spread of the virus, the severity of sickness it causes, and its effects on society are factors considered in the determination of a pandemic.
The WHO has said that the word “pandemic” might cause widespread panic and fear, which will hamper the containment of the virus across the globe.
“Now that the coronavirus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing.
“It would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled. The bottom line is we are not at the mercy of the virus,” he affirmed.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, said that calling the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic “is not a decision we take lightly”.
According to the CDC, an epidemic is “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area”.
On the other hand, an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it “has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people”.