Covid 19 temperature
A medical worker wears protective goggles as she prepares to measure motorists' body temperatures at the Slovenian-Italian border crossing near Nova Gorica, on March 11, 2020, after Slovenia's government announced it would close its border with Italy, hard hit by the outbreak of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. Image Credit: AFP


- What is a pandemic?

- What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?

- All the major pandemics the world has seen

- Where is COVID-19 now?

- Economic impact of the pandemic

Dubai: On Wednesday night, the World Health Organisation termed the new coronavirus infection, COVID-19, a pandemic. When WHO announced it on Twitter, they also said "... we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction." Here we try and address all the questions you may have about the declaration.

What is a pandemic?

A pandemic, as defined by WHO, is the worldwide spread of a new disease. The focus in terming a disease a pandemic, in this case COVID-19, is the geographical spread of the disease wherein humans seem to have no immunity against it.

So, COVID-19 has been labelled a pandemic because of the fact that 124 countries and territories have been affected. At the time of publishing, there have been over 129,000 confirmed cases with a majority of those in China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain, Germany and the United States in that order. The rest of the countries have fewer than 1,000 cases as of March 12. 

COVID-19 is the first coronavirus to be labeled a pandemic. Viruses that have caused past pandemics typically originated from animal influenza viruses - some examples are H1N1 of 2009 or the Spanish flu of 1918.

How is it different from an epidemic or outbreak?

A pandemic is characterised by a global, worldwide spread while epidemics refer to fast and unusually high concentration of a disease in one specific region. Malaria, small pox, SARS are some examples of well-known epidemics.

The term 'outbreak' is sometimes used inter-changeably with 'epidemic' but is usually used for diseases in a small area or community. Four linked cases of a rare infectious disease may be sufficient to constitute an outbreak.

Does a pandemic mean death of millions?

No, a pandemic as a term is associated with the geographical spread of a disease rather than its level of severity or mortality, according to the WHO.

In fact, more than 70 per cent confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recovered (over 68,000) while more than 80 per cent of cases have very mild symptoms with little to no chances of critical illness.

However, the WHO has highlighted that a level of inaction is evident in some countries.

There have also been several accounts of people not getting easy access to tests and medical attention in suspected cases of COVID-19.

Rome's Trevi fountain
This combo of two images shows people walking around Rome's Trevi fountain at 9.48gmt on Monday, June 12, 2017, top, and at 13.00gmt on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Image Credit: AP

So far, the average death rate for COVID-19 cases has been 2 to 3 per cent and concentrated among the elderly and other high-risk demographics such as people with underlying pre-existing conditions of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc.

People who have significant immunity issues are also at risk of critical illness arising from the coronavirus infection including pneumonia, organ dysfunction etc.

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All the other pandemics of the world

Pandemics world
The pandemics of the world Image Credit: Dona Cherian/Gulf News

The world has seen pandemics across centuries - at the very least since it was possible for humans to move between continents and countries.

The Antonin Plague of 165 AD, also known as the Plague of Galen, is estimated to have killed over 5 million people but the true cause is unknown. Descriptions of symptoms from the time match those of small pox or measles.

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One of the most destructive pandemics was caused by the influenza virus in 1918, widely known as the Spanish Flu and is estimated to have killed over 50 million people.

There have been seven cholera pandemics, out of which the last one is ongoing through small outbreaks around the world.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic comes close to the Spanish Flu in terms of deaths at 37.9 million as of 2018.

COVID-19 pandemic status explained by experts
Will declaring Covid 19 a pandemic mean stricter restrictions?

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision to declare Covid 19 a pandemic on March 11 has raised the risk of the contagion to a global health emergency. This could mean that countries might now resort to more tight border sealing, suspension of flights, stricter quarantines, implementation of the strategy of suspension of all school and college education with remote learning worldwide and a spate of other stringent rules in an attempt to stop the spread.

Air travel might be highly restricted

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Mohammad Rafique Pul, Head of infection control and medical director of Prime Hospital said: “By declaring the disease pandemic WHO has indicated the speed of the world wide transmission. Epidemics are those that have a high number of cases in certain pockets. Like we had the Sars, Mers and H1n1, these were concentrated in Middle East and Asia and that is why these were not declared pandemic. But in case of a pandemic cases quadruple from 10 one day straight to thousand. We have seen in this in the case of Italy and Iran and this means in order to control the spread there will have to stronger curbs of air travel. The virus is shedding at a high pace and spreading very fast.”

Containment is the main strategy

Holding the press briefing, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebereyus. Director General of WHO said containment would continue to be main pillar to reduce the transmission chains. “This would have to be blended with other strategies such as mitigation,” he said.

He added: “This is the first coronavirus which is being labelled pandemic. However, we can see that of the 118,000 positive cases nearly 90 per cent of thee cases of the 118,000 are limited to four countries of the world (China, Iran, Italy and South Korea). Numbers themselves speak – 81 countries have no case and they should do everything to not allow the virus set foot in their coutnries. 57 countries have less then 10 cases. Together these countries can restrict and contain the spread effectively,” he said.

Talking about containment strategies, Dr Michael Ryan, Senior Advisor of WHO co-chairing the briefing said one effective and inexpensive way of containment was not just isolating individual cases but doing contact tracing.

This means tracing back the possible primary and secondary infection transmission cases. “Contact tracing is not really expensive and it give us a real chance to blunt the blow and control the spread the disease. It does involve interrupting the life of a small group of people but can be very effective in controlling the spread.”

By Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary

COVID-19 now

Almost 7,000 cases were reported in the past day, far surpassing the average daily amount reported in China during the virus' initial peak. 

Italy saw the sharpest increase in cases, with over 2,300 in 24 hours, accounting for a third of all new cases in the past day.

A total of 196 people died in Italy over the last 24 hours, the largest rise in absolute numbers since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21.

People pass in front the emergency entrance of the government-run Rafik Hariri Hospital, where most of the Lebanese coronavirus cases are treated, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Health Ministry officials say there are more than 60 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Lebanon and two deaths. The vast majority of people recover from this virus. Image Credit: AP

Meanwhile, China had eight new coronavirus infections in Hubei province, the first time the epicentre of the pandemic recorded a daily tally in single digits, as more businesses reopened with local authorities cautiously easing strict containment measures.

Tom Hanks and wife affected Oscar-winning U.S. actor Tom Hanks took to Twitter and Instagram to tell fans that he and his wife Rita Wilson have tested positive for coronavirus in Australia, where Hanks had been working on a film.

He said they had both felt tired and achy with slight fevers. The couple, both 63, are the first major US celebrities known to have contracted COVID-19.

Hanks had been in Australia shooting an untitled Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann. Hanks plays Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The film, slated for release in October 2021, has suspended production, Warner Bros. said.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, WHO says.

Economic impact of the pandemic

A Kuwaiti trader checks stock prices at Boursa Kuwait in Kuwait City, on March 8, 2020. Kuwait Boursa authorities stopped trading after the Premier Index slumped 10 percent while the All-Shares index dived 8.4 percent, as shares in the energy-dependent Gulf plunged to multi-year lows after OPEC's failure to agree on a coronavirus action plan prompted fears of an all-out oil price war Image Credit: AFP

The coronavirus pandemic has battered economies across the globe, dealing a blow to everything from tourism to consumer spending to factory output.

In South Korea's case, the epidemic is hitting an economy already weakened by trade spats in the region. Korea's labor market also has one of the world's highest proportions of self-employed people, whose heavy debt burdens make them more vulnerable to downturns, and their woes could in turn worsen the nation's slump.

The global stock rout deepened as Donald Trump, President of the United States, stopped short of offering a detailed rescue package, even as Australia and the U.K. unveiled stimulus measures.

Trump's clampdown on European travelers delivers a hammer blow to the already-reeling airline industry.

Asian shares plunged Thursday after the World Health Organization declared a coronavirus pandemic and indexes sank on Wall Street.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 dived 4.4 per cent to 18,559.63. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 7.4 per cent to 5,304.60. South Korea's Kospi dipped 4.7 per cent to 1,817.87.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 3.6 per cent to 24,316.77, while the Shanghai Composite index shed 1.9 per cent to 2,912.33. Thailand's benchmark plunged 9 per cent. India's Sensex swooned 7 per cent.

"Some of the biggest markets, such as Hong Kong or Japan or Australia, are down around four to five percent. And we haven't seen, you know, a significant buy-in interest yet, so traders are still in the get-out mode. They just want to have it in cash,'' said Jackson Wong of Amber Hill Capital Ltd., in Hong Kong.

"So that's a typical panic mode, but whether this panic mode will stop in the short term, it really will depend on how the virus incident goes forward," Wong said.

Many analysts say financial markets will continue to swing sharply until the number of new infections stops accelerating.

"There's a real feeling that we don't know where this ends," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network.

Italy's government on Wednesday announced $28 billion in financial support for health care, the labor market and families and businesses that face a cash crunch due to the country's nationwide lock down on travel.

Many other governments have come up with similar plans.

*Figures from as of 6pm UAE time

- Inputs from agencies