As the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold, World Health Organisation (WHO) has used the term 'pandemic' for the first time. What does this upgrade mean and is it cause for worry? TOI explains
How 'pandemic' is different from 'epidemic'
Before WHO's announcement on Wednesday, the Covid-19 outbreak was described as an epidemic. WHO defines an epidemic as "occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness clearly in excess of normal expectancy". This was the case until January when most coronavirus patients were being reported from China. By February, the virus had gained foothold in all continents except Antarctica, inching closer to the definition of a pandemic. A pandemic is "an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people, according to 'A Dictionary of Epidemiology', the standard reference for epidemiologists.
But there isn't a fixed definition of a pandemic based on mortality or number of cases. Previously, in 2009, WHO had declared H1N1 (swine flu) which infected 24% of world's population as a pandemic. Experts agree that an outbreak needs to fulfil three main criteria to be called a pandemic – it has to be a new virus, it should be capable of person-to-person spread, and it should show sustained local transmission in new regions.
Why it took so long for WHO to upgrade Covid-19's status?
Long before WHO upgraded Covid-19's status from epidemic to pandemic, public health experts had been arguing that the world was already experiencing a pandemic. Even as cases spiralled in Europe, Middle East and the US, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stopped short of calling coronavirus a pandemic earlier this week. Instead, he said that the "threat of a pandemic has become very real". Two days later, on Wednesday, the agency declared it had made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.
Does pandemic status mean the virus has become more deadly?
No. Pandemic has nothing to do with severity of the illness; it's about how many parts of the world are dealing with it. According to the World Health Organisation, "Describing the situation asRead More – Source