WHO Declares Coronavirus Crisis a Pandemic
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Wednesday that the coronavirus crisis is now a “pandemic.” The declaration came as more than 118,000 people have been infected in 114 countries. And more than 4,200 have died from the disease.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the WHO’s Director-General. At a news conference in Geneva, he said, “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.”
The health chief expected “the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries [to] climb even higher.” But he said “all countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response.”
The WHO added that Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against COVID-19 that started in China. And it expected the battle to move to other countries.
Italy, the new front line
With more than 10,000 people infected by the virus and at least 631 deaths, Italy has the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside of China. The government has since placed more restrictions on daily life and announced billions in financial help Wednesday to deal with economic shocks related to the virus.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he would consider a request from Lombardy, Italy’s hardest-hit area, asking for a shutdown of unnecessary businesses and cutback of public transportation. The tough measures would be on top of existing travel and social restrictions, keeping people 1 meter apart and closing businesses by 6 p.m.
Claudia Sabbatini, a children’s clothing storeowner in Milan, agreed with the tough measures but decided to close the store. “I cannot have people standing at a distance. Children must try on the clothes. We have to know if they will fit,” she said.
Normal life is changing in many places, including the Vatican. On Wednesdays, the Pope usually delivers his weekly speeches to tens of thousands of visitors in St. Peter’s Square. This week, it is live-streamed from inside.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that if the virus is not stopped, up to 70 percent of the country’s 83 million people could become infected. Germany has some 1,300 confirmed infections. Belgium, Bulgaria, Sweden, Albania and Ireland all announced their first virus-related deaths this week.
In the U.S.
More colleges in the United States emptied their classrooms as they moved to online learning. Silvana Gomez is a student at Harvard University, where students were told to leave campus by Sunday. She said, “It’s terrifying. I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”
Sports fans are wondering what will happen with opening day of the major league baseball season and college basketball’s championships, which are both coming soon.
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are competing in the presidential election, both canceled meetings with supporters in the state of Ohio Tuesday.
New York’s governor limited the movement of people in a small city north of New York City where many people are infected with the virus. And he ordered the state’s National Guard to clean public places and deliver food to its people.
In the Mideast, most of the nearly 10,000 cases of infections are in Iran. The Fars news agency said the people infected with the virus include Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and several ministers.
Infected cases in Qatar increased from 24 to 262. And Kuwait announced a two-week shutdown of the country.
In Wuhan, the center of the virus outbreak in China, industries and businesses that provide daily needs have since reopened. But China’s new worry is that the coronavirus could re-enter from abroad.
Beijing’s city government announced that all overseas visitors will be separated from others for 14 days. China reported 24 new cases Wednesday – but they included five people arriving from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.
I’m Jill Robbins.