People arriving at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands with face masks. (Photo: People's Daily)
Brussels (People’s Daily) – The World Health Organization on Friday raised the global risk level for COVID-19 from ‘high’ to ‘very high,’ warning that the fast-spreading coronavirus could soon reach most, “if not all” countries around the world. It is the highest-level risk assessment the WHO can assign to the outbreak.
The United Nations health agency, which recognized the outbreak as a global health emergency late last month, has recently suggested that the virus has “pandemic potential.” Earlier this week, the WHO had warned countries to be prepared for the coronavirus to be “literally knocking at the door.”
Scenes of empty meat and dairy shelves added to the growing sense of panic gripping Romania. (Photo: People's Daily)
"We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level," WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing, referring to the deadly flu-like virus having spread to every continent except Antarctica.
The WHO’s decision was made due to an increase in the number of cases, as well as countries reporting new cases. South Korea, Italy and Iran have all recorded sharp upticks in cases of the coronavirus in recent days. Belarus, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, New Zealand and Nigeria on Friday reported their first cases. As of Friday, more than 83,000 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed worldwide.
The WHO’s Friday press conference comes on the heels of a stock market bloodbath. Global markets are facing their worst week since the financial crisis of 2008 when global GDP fell by 0.5 percent. Concerns over coronavirus, notably in Italy, saw the European markets fall sharply on Friday, the BBC reported.
The WHO, however, remained cautious about using the word pandemic, saying that the virus can be contained with appropriate measures and international coordination. Elevating the risk level is meant to spur countries to step up their responses, said Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program.
“The WHO isn’t trying to alarm or scare people,” Ryan said. “This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up! Get ready! This virus may be on its way, and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”