The World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, with 114 countries reporting combined cases that added up to nearly 120,000. “In the days and weeks ahead we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher,” WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing in Geneva. “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 therefore made the assessment that [the disease] Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” the director general said, referring to the illness caused by the new coronavirus that began spreading globally in January. Adoption of the new terminology comes as the US, Britain and other countries with rising case counts struggle to come up with emergency responses to the contagion – which causes the potentially deadly respiratory ailment – in the form of stimulus packages and other economic measures. WHO officials cautioned countries to step up containment efforts to prevent Covid-19 from overburdening health care workers. Tedros’ statement “is not an escape clause to mitigation”, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies programme, said in the briefing, referring to the stage when public health authorities give up on containment efforts. US coronavirus cases could hit ‘many millions’, top health official says “It is not the time for countries to move to mitigation only, unless and until they are not in a position to affect the course of the epidemic,” Ryan said. “If you do not try to suppress this virus, it can overwhelm your health system.” In Washington, amid a volley of recriminations over flaws in the way US health authorities initially responded to the pathogen’s spread, the administration of President Donald Trump is locked in a battle with lawmakers over his economic stimulus package proposal that includes a payroll tax holiday to cushion the economic blow caused by the outbreak. Confirmed cases in the US have risen to more than 1,000, by some estimates, while the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention pegged the number at 938, as of Wednesday. "81 countries have not reported any #COVID19 cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less. We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic"- @DrTedros #coronavirus — World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2020 The US numbers and counts for many other countries might be set to rise sharply considering an estimate last week by Marc Lipsitch, head of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics. Lipsitch said 20 per cent to 60 per cent of the world’s adult population could become infected with the new coronavirus, and of those, 1 per cent could die from Covid-19. Italy pledges US$28 billion to fight outbreak, as death toll soars to 827 Meanwhile, other countries are also ramping up response measures. Britain, for example, announced a US$39 billion stimulus package soon after the Bank of England cut interest rates. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to do “whatever is necessary”, and the European Central Bank’s president warned of a significant shock. Shortly after the WHO briefing, India announced that it suspended all tourist visas, a move that takes effect on Friday and will run until April 15. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.