Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET
The COVID-19 viral disease that has swept into at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people is now officially a pandemic, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday.
“This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva.
It’s the first time the WHO has called an outbreak a pandemic since the H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009.
Even as he raised the health emergency to its highest level, Tedros said hope remains that COVID-19 can be curtailed. And he urged countries to take action now to stop the disease.
“WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases,” Tedros said. “And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
Eight countries — including the U.S. — are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus that has infected nearly 120,000 people worldwide.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Tedros said.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher.”
The WHO is “deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction” by world leaders in response to the outbreak, Tedros said.
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” he said.
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