The disease causes respiratory illness (like the flu) with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing. You can protect yourself by washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and avoiding close contact (1 meter or 3 feet) with people who are unwell.
Let me start, as always, with the latest numbers.
As of 6am Geneva time this morning, China has reported a total of 77,362 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, including 2618 deaths.
In the past 24 hours, China has reported 416 new confirmed cases, and 150 deaths.
We’re encouraged by the continued decline in cases in China.
Earlier today the WHO-China joint mission concluded its visit and delivered its report.
As you know, the team has traveled to several different provinces, including Wuhan.
The team has made a range of findings about the transmissibility of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of the measures taken.
They found that the epidemic peaked and plateaued between the 23rd of January and the 2nd of February, and has been declining steadily since then.
They have found that there has been no significant change in the genetic makeup of the virus.
They found that the fatality rate is between 2% and 4% in Wuhan, and 0.7% outside Wuhan.
They found that for people with mild disease, recovery time is about two weeks, while people with severe or critical disease recover within three to six weeks.
The team also estimate that the measures taken in China have averted a significant number of cases.
The report contains a wealth of other information, highlights questions for which we still don’t have answers, and includes 22 recommendations.
Dr Bruce Aylward will give more detail tomorrow on behalf of the joint team.
But the key message that should give all countries hope, courage and confidence is that this virus can be contained.
Indeed, there are many countries that have done exactly that.
Outside China, there are now 2074 cases in 28 countries, and 23 deaths.
The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning.
There’s a lot of speculation about whether these increases mean that this epidemic has now become a pandemic.
We understand why people ask that question.
WHO has already declared a public health emergency of international concern – our highest level of alarm – when there were less than 100 cases outside China, and 8 cases of human-to-human transmission.
Our decision about whether to use the word “pandemic” to describe an epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of disease it causes and the impact it has on the whole of society.
For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death.
Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.
So how should we describe the current situation?
What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world, affecting countries in different ways and requiring a tailored response.
The sudden increase in new cases is certainly very concerning.
I have spoken consistently about the need for facts, not fear.
Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear.
This is not the time to focus on what word we use.
That will not prevent a single infection today, or save a single life today.
This is a time for all countries, communities, families and individuals to focus on preparing.
We do not live in a binary, black-and-white world.
It’s not either-or. We must focus on containment, while doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every country must make its own risk assessment for its own context. WHO is also continuing to do its own risk assessment and is monitoring the evolution of the epidemic around the clock.
But there are at least three priorities.
First, all countries must prioritize protecting health workers.
Second, we must engage communities to protect people who are most at risk of severe disease, particularly the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
And third, we must protect countries that are the most vulnerable, by doing our utmost to contain epidemics in countries with the capacity to do it.