WHO Says It Isn't Ready to Use the P-Word Yet

There's no coronavirus pandemic, but we should be in a 'phase of preparedness'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2020 3:48 PM CST
WHO to the World: Be in a 'Phase of Preparedness'
A worker in protective gear stacks plastic buckets containing medical waste from coronavirus patients at a medical center in Daegu, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.   (Lee Moo-ryul/Newsis via AP)

The World Health Organization isn't ready to use the p-word, but it thinks the world should ready itself for a potential coronavirus pandemic all the same. On Monday the WHO instructed countries to be "in a phase of preparedness," saying that while its assessment remains that COVID-19 can't yet be considered a pandemic—meaning a disease that spreads globally—the potential is there. CNBC quotes the WHO's Dr. Mike Ryan as saying the reported decrease in new cases in China "goes against the logic of pandemic"; a WHO delegation that spent time on the ground in the country found cases "peaked and plateaued" from Jan. 23 to Feb. 3 and have been dropping since.

But the New York Times details some points of confusion involving changes China has made to the way it counts cases and whether a shortage of testing kits is mucking with the numbers. At the BBC, heath correspondent James Gallagher argues that it kind of doesn't matter if we use the word or not, observing that doing so "will not unlock more money or give the WHO new powers. [The WHO] has already issued the highest warning it can, by declaring the virus a global emergency." And if we do use it, the word will describe coronavirus' reach, not its deadliness, the Washington Post points out: If it "becomes a true pandemic, a large proportion of the human population—a third, a half, two-thirds even—could become infected, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that all will become ill." (Iran's outbreak has spread to 4 countries.)

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