Coronavirus: WHO says the Wuhan outbreak is not a pandemic yet, but experts think it could be in the future
The virus is currently considered to be an epidemic with multiple locations. Experts are hoping to extinguish the transmission in each of these locations
The World Health Organization (WHO) -- which declared a public health emergency over the outbreak -- has said that it was not a "pandemic" yet, meaning the disease has not become prevalent across the globe. This comes amid rising speculations that the outbreak could turn into a pandemic.
"We are not in a pandemic," Dr Sylvie Briand, director of the World Health Organization's Infectious Hazards Management Department said in a press conference on Tuesday, February 4, explaining that the virus is currently considered to be an epidemic with multiple locations. "We will try to extinguish the transmission in each of these," she said, adding that the agency believes this "can be done with containment measures currently in place," she added.
Further, the WHO says 99% of the cases have been recorded in China itself, where the death toll stands at 490, with 24,324 confirmed cases. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, tweeted highlighting the current status.
I just briefed #EB146 members on the #2019nCov outbreak. It’s important to underline that 99% of the cases are in #China & 97% of deaths are in Hubei province. This is still first and foremost an emergency for China 🇨🇳. pic.twitter.com/wGCnsR71Qh— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) February 4, 2020
The WHO estimates that 27 cases of human-to-human infections have occurred in nine countries outside China. "[The] continued increase in cases and the evidence of human-to-human transmission outside of China are, of course, most deeply disturbing. Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak,” WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus said during a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters last week.
Experts weigh in
The rate at which the infection is spreading among people has heightened concerns, with a few experts believing that it could become a pandemic. The virus has already reached several countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. So far, Africa and Latin America have not reported any confirmed cases yet.
Scientists think that the virus is spreading faster than its close relatives SARS and MERS. For instance, the SARS virus infected over 8,100 people during the eight-month outbreak. The new coronavirus, on the other hand, is inching closer to 25K mark in just over a month since it was first reported to the WHO.
What is more, a recent study predicted that more than 75,000 people in Wuhan may have the infection.
“It’s [coronavirus is] very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic. But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Dr Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thinks it is increasingly unlikely that the virus can be contained. “It is therefore likely that it will spread, like flu and other organisms do, but we still don’t know how far, wide or deadly it will be,” he told the New York Times.
Currently, some experts think it is too early to predict the future course of the outbreak. According to Dr David Heymann, who led the WHO's response to the outbreak of SARS in 2002-03, the new coronavirus appeared to still be on the rise and that it was too early to estimate when it would peak. However, the rate at which the virus is spreading will depend on China's measures and the extent to which the populations of affected areas have adopted risk-reducing behaviors, according to an updated report from the Imperial College of London.
The WHO believes that it is not too late to contain the virus and stressed that countries should be more transparent, as developed nations were failing to share data. "There is a window of opportunity because of the high measures, the strong measures China is taking at the epicenter, at the source. So let's use this opportunity to prevent further spread and control it," Ghebreyesus said.