The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has caught a second wind with new outbreaks in Italy, South Korea and Iran. Since December last year, the virus has infected at least 80,248 people and killed more than 2,700.
In South Korea, nearly 1,000 people have fallen ill with COVID-19 following a recent surge in infections tied to a mysterious religious cult.
At least 12 people have also died from the coronavirus in Iran amid claims Iran’s government was covering up the true scale of the outbreak.
More than 200 people have also contracted the coronavirus in northern Italy, where some 50,000 people were told not to travel and stay put.
But could all of these spikes be a sign the coronavirus is about to go global?
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Will the coronavirus turn into a pandemic?
Although it is too early to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the disease has the potential to deteriorate into one.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday: “Does the virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has.
“Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”
The WHO will not issue a pandemic warning until “the geographical spread of the virus, the security of the disease it causes and the impact it has on the whole of society” is severe enough.
Dr Ghebreyesus said: “Using the word pandemic now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear.”
Some experts, however, have warned the coronavirus has already reached pandemic levels of danger.
Does the virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Dr Bharat Pankhania, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We now consider this to be a pandemic in all but name and it’s only a matter of time before the World Health Organization starts to use the term in its communications.”
Although more than 30 countries have confirmed coronavirus infections to date, more than 77,000 patients are still at the epicentre in China.
The novel coronavirus strain first emerged in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, where more than 2,500 of the 2,704 deaths have occurred.
Regardless, the WHO has urged countries to be “in a phase of preparedness”.
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What makes a pandemic a pandemic?
A pandemic occurs when a disease rapidly spreads across a wide geographical area, infecting many people along the way.
Epidemics are tied to one city, region or country, which in this case, is China.
An epidemic can evolve into a pandemic if it spreads to neighbouring countries at an alarming rate.
So far, the coronavirus has not strayed far out of Asia and has only been carried to places like Europe and the US by travellers.
On Monday Dr Ghebreyesus said: “For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death.”
However, Dr Pankhania from the University of Exeter said many scientists are already treating the coronavirus as a pandemic.
He said: “This gives us focus and tells us that the virus is now appearing in other countries and transmitting far afield from China.
“However, it doesn’t change our approach in monitoring the outbreak.
“In the UK, there’s no need to move towards mitigation strategies, as so far, our containment policies are working.
“We only have 13 cases, and they are contained and controlled.”
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