(ABC News) – The World Health Organization upgraded its global risk assessment of the novel coronavirus’ potential for spread and impact from “high” to “very high,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced at a Friday news conference in Geneva.
While the designation is the WHO’s highest possible alert level, Dr. Tedros specifically did not call the virus a pandemic, noting that “we do not see evidence yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities.”
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program warned that calling COVID-19 a pandemic prematurely would be “essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to the virus.” If countries take the containment measures necessary to break the virus’ transmission, “that does not need to be the history of this event,” Ryan said.
Dr. Tedros urged people around the world to follow steps to avoid disease transmission, like hand washing, avoiding traveling while sick and seeking care immediately upon feeling ill. Those over 60 years old, or who have underlying health issues, may wish to take added precautions, like avoiding crowded spaces and not interacting with people who are sick.
There is no treatment for COVID-10, but there are more than 20 vaccines being developed in countries around the world and several therapeutics in clinical trials. While a potential vaccine is more than a year away from being available, the WHO expects to see results from clinical trials for treatments in the next few weeks.