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Thursday, Apr 02, 2020

Coronavirus: World Health Organisation upgrades global risk of virus spread to ‘very high’

Coronavirus: World Health Organisation upgrades global risk of virus spread to ‘very high’

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells reporters that issue is ‘clearly of concern’. Officials stop short of calling the outbreak a ‘pandemic’, citing a lack of conclusive evidence

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday raised the risk of a global spread of coronavirus to “very high” after a week that saw the contagion reach all the world’s inhabited continents.

Daily rises in cases of Covid-19 outside China, where the disease first emerged, now outnumber those within the country. Over 2,300 people in South Korea have contracted the virus, while at least 34 deaths in Iran have made the Middle Eastern country the worst affected region outside China in terms of fatalities.

Asserting that the growing spread outside China was “clearly of concern”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the United Nations body had now increased its assessment “of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of Covid-19 to very high at global level”. The agency had previously assessed the risk of global spread to be “high”.

Asserting that the growing spread outside China was “clearly of concern”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the United Nations body had now increased its assessment “of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of Covid-19 to very high at global level”. The agency had previously assessed the risk of global spread to be “high”.

WHO officials stopped short of calling the outbreak a “pandemic” on Friday, with health emergency programme director Mike Ryan saying to do so would be “essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to that virus”.

There was no data yet to support that conclusion, said Ryan, who, alongside Tedros and other WHO officials, was briefing reporters in Geneva.

Some 97 new cases in 11 countries have been traced back to the recent outbreak in Iran, Tedros said. The virus has infected senior members of the government there, including Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice-president for women and family affairs.

Italy, which has reported at least 888 infections and 21 deaths, has exported 24 cases to 14 countries, Tedros said, adding that the outbreak is manifesting itself in “linked epidemics” where most cases could still be traced.

“We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities,” he said. “As long as that’s the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus.”

This week, US health authorities announced the country’s first case of a positive diagnosis in a patient who had not recently travelled to China or had contact with anyone confirmed to be carrying the virus. A second such case, also in California, was reported on Friday by the Washington Post, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday raised its travel advisory for Italy to level 3 – avoid non-essential travel. The State Department has an existing “do not travel” advisory on Iran over concerns about kidnapping and arbitrary arrest.


The WHO’s elevation of its global risk assessment came after a week of conflicting messaging from the US government. On Wednesday, amid plunging stock markets, President Donald Trump weighed in to dismiss warnings from his own health officials that Covid-19’s spread within the US was “inevitable”.

Trump’s chief of staff further muddied the waters on Friday, saying that the US news media was playing up Covid-19, which has killed over 2,800 people and has no vaccine or proven treatment, because it wanted to inflict political damage on the president.

Comparing coverage of the outbreak with what he called the “hoax” of Trump’s impeachment, Mick Mulvaney said journalists were exaggerating the seriousness of the outbreak because “they think this will bring down the president, that’s what this is about”.

“It’s not Sars, it’s not Mers,” he continued, referring to two other coronavirus outbreaks whose respective death tolls have already been surpassed by Covid-19.

Despite playing down the threat from the new coronavirus, Mulvaney, who was speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, said that Americans should anticipate some impact on public life, including school closures and transit disruption.

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