The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic. But what exactly does this mean?
According to WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease, for which people do not have immunity, spreads across the world beyond expectations, and causes illness in humans. It has nothing to do with changes to characteristics of the disease, but is instead associated with its geographical spread.
The WHO decides if, and when, to declare the spread of an illness a pandemic. While there is no threshold – that includes the number of deaths, infections and countries affected – that needs to be met, the ultimate decision is up to the organisation.
Cases that involve travellers infected in a foreign country, who have returned home and passed it onto other individuals, do not count towards declaring a pandemic. In order for a pandemic to be declared, there must be a second wave of infection from person to person throughout the community.
An epidemic, on the other hand, is a sudden increase in cases of an illness or disease that can be unique to one country or community.
The WHO has stressed that using the word “pandemic” does not signal any change in how to treat the Covid-19 virus. Countries must still follow strict protocols and we should continue to practice safe hygiene, including frequent handwashing and maintaining a safe distance from people.