The World Health Organisation (Who) today declared that the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus is a pandemic.
“We have…made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” Who director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing today.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of Covid-19 outside China has increased 13-fold & the number of affected countries has tripled,” Ghebreyesus said.
“There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.”
Ghebreyesus said the decision had been taken to upgrade the outbreak of the new virus to a pandemic because of its swift spread and severity.
“Who has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said.
“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action,” he said.
“We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
The death toll in Italy has risen by 196 to 827 in the last day, as the number confirmed cases increased to 12,462. It is the highest daily increase in deaths of any country since the outbreak began.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti toughened the lockdown measures, ordering bars, restaurants and beauty parlours to close.
The latest measures will take effect from Thursday and run until March 25, the prime minister’s office said.
The UK government has been criticised in some quarters for its lack of activity in fighting the virus.
London mayoral candidate Rory Stewart said: “The government and the mayor keep saying they are simply following ‘scientific advice’.
“But the scientists are clear that this is now a political decision – on whether the government are prepared to spend very serious sums of money, and take a large economic hit, to maximise protection of the population.”
The government has said it is following advice from scientific and behavioural experts to avoid large-scale restrictions on people’s movements and activities until it becomes necessary.
The Italian government this week put the country into lockdown in response to the rapid spread of the disease.
Stewart was criticised by Tory MP Steve Baker for sensationalising the crisis.
“I prefer to rely on professional scientific advice from [Public Health England] and I believe, as a responsible politician, [Stewart] should too.
“Sensationalism is not appropriate in this crisis.”
Barclays today said one of its staff in its investment bank in Canary Wharf had tested positive for the virus.