WHO raises global risk of COVID-19 spread to ‘very high’

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Feb. 28 (UPI) — World Health Organization officials on Friday raised their risk assessment for spread and impact of COVID-19 from “high” to “very high,” but still declined to declare the outbreak a pandemic despite its impact on an increasing number of nations.

According to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency made the change based on the fact that relatively new epidemics in Italy and Iran have spread to other countries.

In all, 24 confirmed cases of the virus in 14 countries have been traced to Italy, while 97 cases in 11 countries have been linked with Iran.

“What we are seeing is linked epidemics of COVID-19 in several countries,” Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing Friday in Geneva. “We don’t see evidence yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities. As long as that is the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus.”

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, noted that a “pandemic is a unique situation,” but acknowledged that if the virus spreading at this rate was a form of influenza, his agency “would have called it pandemic by now.” However, he said, responses in China indicate that containment is possible.

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