The coronavirus outbreak that surged in South Korea, Iran, and Italy over the weekend is “deeply concerning” but the World Health Organization refused to call it a pandemic while urging countries to prepare for its potentiality.

“For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large scale severe disease or deaths,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Monday at a news briefing at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva. “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”

Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, stressed what the world should be doing instead.

“It is time to do everything you would do in preparing for a pandemic,” said Ryan. “In declaring something a pandemic, it is too early. We’re still trying to avoid that eventuality.”

Worldwide concerns over the coronavirus outbreak turning into a pandemic dialed up as cases spiraled in various countries over the weekend.

South Korea now has the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside of mainland China. It reported 231 infections on Monday, exceeding its national tally of 800 and a death toll of eight. The majority of the infections are traced back to a religious group and a hospital in Daegu, its fourth-largest city. The country raised its disease alert level to the highest on Sunday and quarantined 7,700 troops after 11 military members tested positive for COVID-19.

The Islamic State of Iran reported 61 cases on Sunday with 12 deaths, the most number of coronavirus fatalities outside of China. Most of the infections come from the holy city of Qom. Its neighboring countries Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Armenia closed their land borders with Iran. Regional countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Georgia, and Jordan also imposed travel restrictions. Iranian MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani claimed the coronavirus has killed more than 50 in Qom and that the outbreak was announced at least three weeks late, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency. Iran’s deputy health minister quickly rejected the MP’s claims.

On Monday, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman reported their first cases of coronavirus infections, all involving people who have traveled back from Iran.

Italy has the largest confirmed cases in Europe with more than 220 cases and seven deaths as of Monday. Most of the cases stem from its northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto. Efforts to contain the outbreak include the lockdowns of several small towns as well as travel restrictions.

Stock markets worldwide seem to have finally caught up with the grim reality. Global financial markets took a plunge, its sharpest decline in years.

The WHO cautioned against using the P-word.

“Using the word ‘pandemic’ now does not fit the facts but may certainly cause fear,” said the WHO chief.

“Pandemos is a concept where there’s a belief that the whole world’s population would likely be exposed to this infection and potentially a proportion of them fall sick and we’ve seen that in influenza,” said Ryan.

They also shared that the WHO-led team in several provinces of China, including Wuhan where the disease was first identified in December last year, reported of instances where cases have “peaked and plateaued” and have been “declining steadily since then.”

Ryan added, “Yet we see, in contrast to that, an acceleration of cases in places like Korea and therefore we’re still in the balance.”

“The key message that should give all countries hope, courage and confidence is that this virus can be contained, indeed there are many countries that have done exactly that,” said Ghebreyesus.

According to Ready.gov, here’s what you need to do before and during a pandemic:

Before a Pandemic

  • Store a two week supply of water and food.
  • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • Get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference. Get help accessing electronic health records.
  • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.

During a Pandemic

Limit the Spread of Germs and Prevent Infection

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
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