CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan public health expert calls for WHO to declare COVID-19 pandemic

03/09/2020 05:57 PM
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Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), dean of National Taiwan University
Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), dean of National Taiwan University's (NTU) College of Public Health

Taipei, March 9 (CNA) A leading public health expert in Taiwan has urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare COVID-19 a pandemic due to the surge in cases and spread of the disease around the globe.

COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has accumulated 105,586 infections, including 3,500 deaths, in over 100 countries around the world since it first appeared in China around the end of last year, according to WHO statistics valid as of Sunday.

However, the vast majority of cases and deaths have been in China, the statistics showed. As of Monday, Taiwan had confirmed a total of 45 COVID-19 infections, including one death and 15 people who have been discharged after being hospitalized for treatment.

Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), dean of National Taiwan University's (NTU) College of Public Health, said the WHO believes the mortality rate of the disease is 3.4 percent, which means that COVID-19 is pointing toward the direction of pandemics in the past.

Past pandemics included the 1968 pandemic caused by an influenza A (H3N2) virus that reflected excess deaths in people 65 years and older, according to the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The severe illness associated with elderly people is also reflected in the current coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the WHO at the end of January.

Other past pandemics also include the 1957-1958 Asian Flu pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic, the most severe pandemic in recent history, according to the American CDC.

"Bill Gates seems to think that the current COVID-19 outbreak might be the 'once-in-a-century pathogen' that will lead to a similar situation like the 1918 pandemic," Chan said, adding that he agrees with Gates that people need to address the situation with the correct attitude.

Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權, center), dean of National Taiwan University
Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權, center), dean of National Taiwan University's (NTU) College of Public Health

"From a professional perspective, the NTU's College of Public Health would like to urge the WHO this week to declare COVID-19 as a global pandemic," Chan said.

However, at an earlier WHO press briefing on COVID-19 Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pushed back the idea of calling the current situation a pandemic because he said the situation has not yet arrived at that level.

"Unless we're convinced it's uncontrollable, why do we call it a pandemic?" he asked. "But with flu, we know it is uncontrollable and it affects a big part of the population -- 2 billion for instance with H1N1. If we reach that conclusion, then it will be uncontrollable, and then we may be in a position to say that."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus / (Image taken from twitter.com/WHO)
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus / (Image taken from twitter.com/WHO)

Michael J Ryan, WHO Health Emergencies Programme executive director, relayed the same idea, saying that for the WHO to declare a pandemic, then in theory, every human on the planet would be exposed to the coronavirus, which is not supported by current data.

(By William Yen)

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