ROME: Expressing alarm both about mounting infections and slow government responses, the World Health Organisation declared on Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic but also said it’s not too late for countries to act.

By reversing course and using the charged word pandemic that it had previously shied away from, the UN health agency appeared to want to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.

We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief.

“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response,” he said. We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.

The WHO added that Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against the virus that started in China.

They’re suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon,” said Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief. Italy weighed imposing even tighter restrictions on daily life and announced billions in financial relief on Wednesday to cushion economic shocks from the coronavirus, its latest efforts to adjust to the fast-evolving health crisis that silenced the usually bustling heart of the Catholic faith, St. Peters Square.

In Iran, by far the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, the senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. Iran reported another jump in deaths, by 62 to 354 behind only China and Italy.

In Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte said he would consider requests from Lom­bardy, Italy’s hardest-hit region, to toughen the already extraordinary anti-virus lockdown that was extended natio­­n­wide on Tuesday. Lombardy wants to shut down nonessential businesses and reduce public transportation.

These additional measures would be on top of travel and social restrictions that imposed an eerie hush on cities and towns across the country from Tuesday. Police enforced rules that customers stay 1 meter (3 feet) apart and ensured that businesses closed by 6 p.m.China’s new worry is that the coronavirus could re-enter from abroad. Beijing’s city government announced that all overseas visitors will be quarantined for 14 days. Of 24 new cases that China reported on Wednesday, five arrived from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,300 have died.

But the vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organisation, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

In the Mideast, the vast majority of the nearly 10,000 cases are in Iran or involve people who traveled there. Iran announced another increase in cases on Wednesday to 9,000. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency said they include Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, who had not been seen in photos of recent top-level meetings. Fars said Iran’s ministers for cultural heritage, handcrafts and tourism, and for industry, mines and business were also infected.

Cases in Qatar jumped from 24 to 262. Kuwait announced a two-week shutdown of the country.

For the global economy, virus repercussions were profound, with increasing concerns of wealth- and job-wrecking recessions. US stocks sank again in early trading Wednesday, wiping out most of a huge rally from a day earlier as Wall Street continues to reel from worries about the coronavirus.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2020

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