Expressing alarm both about mounting infections and inadequate government responses, the World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic but added that it's not too late for countries to act. By reversing course and using the charged word "pandemic" that it had previously shied away from, the UN health agency sought to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops. "We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief. "All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response," he said.
"We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction," Ghebreyesus added, per the AP. The WHO said Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against the virus that started in China. "They're suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon," said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief. He added that the agency thought long and hard about labeling the crisis a pandemic—meaning a new virus causing sustained outbreaks in multiple regions of the world. The risk of employing the term, Ryan said, is "if people use it as an excuse to give up." But the likely benefits are "potentially of galvanizing the world to fight." (Read more coronavirus stories.)