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The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging what has seemed clear for some time — the virus will likely spread to all countries on the globe.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the situation will worsen.

“We expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” said Tedros, as the director-general is known.

As of Wednesday, 114 countries have reported that 118,000 have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, known as SARS-CoV2. Nearly 4,300 people have died.

In the United States, where for weeks state and local laboratories could not test for the virus, just over 1,000 cases have been diagnosed and 29 people have died. But authorities here warn continuing limits on testing mean the full scale of spread in this country is not yet known.

The virus causes mild respiratory infections in about 80% of those infected, though about half will have pneumonia. Another 15% develop severe illness, and 5% need critical care.

WHO officials had said earlier they were hesitant to call the outbreak a pandemic in case it led governments and individuals to give up the fight. 

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus,” Tedros said at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, in making the announcement. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

At the same time, Tedros said: “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector — so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.”

Tedros said this was the first coronavirus to reach pandemic levels, but also said “we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled.”

“We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” Tedros said Wednesday.

Tedros used the fact that 90% of the cumulative cases have been reported in just four countries as evidence that the rest of the world still had time to prevent an explosion of cases with action.

WHO officials also stressed that countries should be implementing a strategic combination of both containment and mitigation measures. 
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