Published: 12th March 2020
WHO declares COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic: Here are 3 other diseases that shook the world before Coronavirus
The number of cases in over 100 countries around the world has risen to more than 124,000, with over 4,500 deaths, owing to the Coronavirus outbreak
The novel coronavirus outbreak can now be described as a pandemic, the head of the World Health Organisation announced on Wednesday. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was troubled by the spread and severity of the outbreak, along with a lack of action taken to combat it.
"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we're deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction," he said at a news conference in Geneva. "We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic."
The number of cases in over 100 countries around the world has risen to more than 124,000, with over 4,500 deaths, including a jump in fatalities in Iran and Italy in particular, according to an AFP tally. China remains the worst-affected country with more than 80,000 confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths.
Tedros said that over the past two weeks, the number of cases outside China has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries have tripled. He said he expected the number of cases and deaths would grow in the coming days and weeks. "Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly," he told the reporters, but he stressed that "describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO's assessment of the threat posed by the virus. "It should not be taken by countries as a signal to give up on efforts to contain the virus with methods like contact-tracing," he added.
According to WHO, the definition of a pandemic is "the worldwide spread of a new disease."
Throughout history, humankind has witnessed a number of pandemics of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. Some of the most severe past pandemics include the 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu) and the 2009 flu pandemic (H1N1). One of the most devastating pandemics that occurred was the Black Death, which killed an estimated 75–200 million people in the 14th century. We take a look at a few of them.
Black Death or the great plague took place from 1331 to 1353. Beginning in Asia, the disease reached the Mediterranean and western Europe in 1348 (possibly from Italian merchants fleeing fighting in Crimea) and killed an estimated 20 to 30 million Europeans (a third of the total population) in just six years. The disease is said to have recurred in England every two to five years from 1361 to 1480. By the 1370s, England's population was reduced by 50 per cent. The Great Plague of London (1665–66) was the last major outbreak of the plague in England. The disease killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20 per cent of London's population.
Spanish flu (1918 to 1920). It was said to have infected 500 million people around the world, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic, and so it resulted in the deaths of approximately 50 to 100 million people. Most influenza outbreaks are said to disproportionately kill the very young and the very old, with a higher survival rate for those in between, but the Spanish flu had an unusually high mortality rate for young adults.
Smallpox was categorised under contagious diseases and was caused by the variola virus. The disease approximately killed 400,000 Europeans per year during the closing years of the 18th century. During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300 to 500 million deaths. As recently as the early 1950s, an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world every year. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the eradication of smallpox in December 1979.