As COVID-19 moves from epidemic to pandemic status, we discuss its implications for all of us and describe how the experts reacted. We also share some coping strategies for anxiety.
All data and statistics are based on data available to the public at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially changed its COVID-19 classification from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic.
COVID-19 is the name of the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
What does this change in classification mean?
Yesterday afternoon, during a press briefing, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, explained that the organization “evaluated this outbreak 24 hours a day and we are deeply concerned, both by the alarming propagation and alarming levels of inaction. We, therefore, considered that COVID-19 can be qualified as a pandemic. “
“Pandemic is not a word to be used lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if used improperly, can cause unreasonable fear or unwarranted acceptance of the end of the fight, causing unnecessary suffering and death, “continued Dr. Tedros.
So, if the plan is as usual, can we expect imminent major changes, and what can we do as individuals to overcome the challenges we may face in the future?
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) use the word “epidemic” to speak of “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of disease above what is normally expected in this population in this region”.
The “pandemic” is an escalation and “refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, generally affecting a large number of people”.
Many people know the term pandemic in the context of the flu.
the CDC explain that an influenza pandemic occurs when a new version of the flu virus easily infects people and spreads effectively from person to person in a sustainable manner.
During the 20th century, the world experienced three influenza pandemics.
The number of deaths from the Spanish flu in 1918 is estimated to be around 50 millions worldwide. The Asian flu, in 1957–1958, killed approximately 1.1 million, and the Hong Kong flu pandemic in 1968, approximately 1 million.
The most recent flu pandemic occurred in 2009, when a new strain of flu called (H1N1) pdm09, more commonly known as swine flu, spread around the world.
In the first year after the virus first appeared, it resulted in approximately 60.8 million illnesses, 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the United States, according to CDC estimates.
Worldwide, during this period, the CDC estimates the number of deaths in the region at 151,700–575,400.
At the time, school closings and social distancing occurred to slow the spread of the virus within and between communities.
The development of the vaccine has been extraordinarily rapid, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving four H1N1 flu vaccines in September 2009.
COVID-19 is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. However, although this change in status may cause us concern, WHO and other experts are examining the term with restraint.
Dr. Tedros was clear in his assessment of the situation:
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO does, and it doesn’t change what countries should do. “
“We cannot say it loud enough, nor clearly enough, nor often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he continued.
So how did the other experts react to the situation?
“[The WHO] have decided that the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic now warrants being described as a pandemic, “noted Nathalie MacDermott, Ph.D., clinical professor of pediatric infectious diseases at King’s College London, UK, adding, adding: “This decision will likely have been made on the basis of the majority of the continents of the world which now see a large and continuous spread of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person.”
“The change of term hardly changes anything, as the world has been advised in recent weeks to prepare for a possible pandemic, which we hope has been taken seriously by all countries,” she said. .
Yet she adds that “the use of this term, however, underscores the importance of countries around the world working together and openly with each other and coming together as a united front in our efforts to overcome this situation. . ”
Meanwhile, Professor Mark Woolhouse, president of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, explained that COVID-19 is likely to stay here for a while.
“[The WHO have] now confirms that COVID-19 is a pandemic. The statement also says that it does not change their advice on how to react and that “urgent and aggressive” measures are required by countries affected by major outbreaks, “he said.
“An important word missing from this statement is ‘enduring’. It is now clear that COVID-19 will be with us for a considerable period of time, and the actions we take must be actions with which we can live for an extended period. ”
Dr. Tedros sent very clear messages to countries around the world during his press conference.
“Even countries with community transmission or large clusters can reverse the trend on this virus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be deleted and controlled, ”he observed.
“The challenge for many countries that face large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it is if they will,” he continued.
“Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of determination. ”
Michael Head, Ph.D., a senior global health researcher at the University of Southampton, UK, weighed in, noting:[The WHO] said some countries are struggling with a lack of resources, but also “a lack of determination”. This is clearly a direct indication that they consider that many countries have been slow to step up their responses. ”
He continued: “Characterizing the situation as a pandemic may mean that we see countries feeling pressured to implement new, larger interventions, such as banning public gatherings, sooner than they expected. other.”
Dr. Tedros chose these words for the last part of his press briefing: “There has been so much attention on a word. Let me give you a few other words that count a lot more and are a lot more actionable. ”
“Prevention. Preparation. Public health. Political leadership. And above all: people. We are in the same boat – do the right things calmly and protect the citizens of the world. It is doable,” he concluded. .
the CDC recommends that everyone wear cloth masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet (2 meters) from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus among asymptomatic people and people who don’t know they have it. People should wear cloth masks while continuing to practice physical distance. Instructions for making masks at home are available here. Note: It is essential that N95 surgical masks and respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.
Governments around the world have adopted different approaches to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
While the United States must restrict entry for visitors from many European countries from midnight on Friday, officials in China believe that the peak of new cases in China has passed and that the pandemic could be finished by mid-summer.
In Italy, social distancing measures are in full swing, much of the country being blocked. Ireland today announced the closure of all schools, colleges and daycare centers, as well as museums, galleries and tourist attractions until March 29.
Schools are also closed in several districts Washington state.
Given the speed of these events, it is not surprising that anxiety levels have increased significantly for many people. the WHO published tips on mental health considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this week.
For the general public, they recommend, among other things, to:
- Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that makes you anxious or distressed.
- Seek information primarily to take practical action – to plan and protect yourself and your loved ones.
- Check for information updates at specific times, once or twice during the day – a sudden, almost constant flow of news about an epidemic can worry anyone.
- Get the facts – collect information at regular intervals WHO website and local health authorities, to help distinguish facts from rumors.
We echo this in our Spotlight section “Worried about news? Our best advice on how to cope ”, in which we deepen coping strategies.