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  • Coronavirus: Pandemic or Epidemic?

Coronavirus: Pandemic or Epidemic?

Apr 04 2020 Read 1266 Times

Since the first reports of coronavirus trickled out from Wuhan in January, the disease has infected more than one million people and claimed tens of thousands of lives. A lot of words have been used to describe what is now known as COVID-19, including epidemic and pandemic. While the pair are often used interchangeably, health experts stress there's a big difference.

What is an epidemic?

In January, when COVID-19 was still contained in mainland China and a handful of other countries, the disease was classed as an epidemic. WHO describes an epidemic as "The occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy." Examples of previous epidemics include the Ebola outbreak of 2018, which was extremely serious yet contained largely within eastern Africa.

What is a pandemic?

On March 12, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially upgraded COVID-19 to a pandemic. WHO defines the term as the "worldwide spread of a new disease" and has confirmed the latest strain has now infiltrated more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.

"Describing the situation as a pandemic requires countries to accelerate their efforts, striking the right balance between protecting health, preventing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights. I appreciate that this means governmental authorities often face difficult decisions," says Dr Hans Kluge, Regional Director for WHO Europe.

"Exponential growth" leads to pandemic classification

It's the first time a coronavirus, a family of viruses named after their crown-like appearance, has been classed as a pandemic and has forced governments and healthcare systems around the world to navigate alarming new territory. While WHO initially refrained from declaring a pandemic to avoid worldwide panic, the organisation was eventually forced to reclassify. While not as deadly, the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak was also considered a pandemic, as were historic outbreaks such as the 1918 Spanish flu and 14th century 'Black Death' plague.

"Over the past 5 weeks we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country, territory, and area," says Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. "The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days we will reach one million confirmed cases, and 50,000 deaths."

To find out more about how global health experts and organisations are working to fight the pandemic, 'Ways to tackle the spread of coronavirus using viricidal surface decontamination' offers expert insight from Jacqueline Balian on behalf of Gambica Trade Association.

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