New York / Geneva: The coronavirus outbreak across more than 100 countries has been declared a global pandemic, the World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday.
The virus was unknown to world health officials just three months ago. Until now, the WHO had avoided using the term pandemic, which is generally defined as an illness that spreads far and wide throughout the world.
Apparently, it did not want to give the impression that the outbreak was unstoppable and because countries would give up on trying to contain it.
Declaring a pandemic has major political and economic ramifications. It can further rattle already fragile world markets and lead to more stringent travel and trade restrictions.
Stocks on Wall Street tumbled on Wednesday and the volatile trading across global markets signalled that investors remained concerned about how governments would deal with the economic consequences of coronavirus.
The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled more than 850 points, or 3.4 percent in midday trading. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell nearly 3 percent and the Nasdaq was down 2.8 percent.
“Markets will continue to tumble,” said an expert at a business school in an email. “We can’t predict yet when they might bottom out, because we don’t know how long the global virus will spread.”
The number of cases and deaths have mounted by the hour, topping 121,564 cases with at least 4,373 deaths across the world as of Wednesday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, reports CNBC.
Outside China, 32,778 cases across at least 109 countries have been confirmed — up from four cases in three countries on January 21.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the WHO, said at a news conference in Geneva. “We cannot
say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough,” he added. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”
“It is also going to get worse,” said a leading American scientist, reports New York Times. A top federal health official gave a stark warning on Wednesday that the coronavirus would continue to spread in the United States, and said that fans should be barred from big gatherings like National Basketball Association games.
The effort to stem the economic fallout of the coronavirus took on new urgency around the world on Wednesday as ever more sweeping restrictions on the free movement of people threatened to turn daily life topsy-turvy in more than 100 countries dealing with the public health crisis.
The speed of the coronavirus spread across Europe — with Italy accounting for about half of the nearly 20,000 cases on the continent — has left countries scrambling to come up with a coordinated containment plan.
At the end of February, European nations other than Italy had reported just a few dozen cases. Now, France, Germany and Spain have well over 1,000 cases each.
Britain’s government promised nearly $39 billion in stimulus to its economy as its new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, outlined plans to boost public spending and bury the austerity politics of the last decade.