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WHO labels coronavirus a 'pandemic'

KUALA LUMPUR (March 12): The World Health Organization called the new coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, issuing a grim warning that the global spread and severity of the illness was due to "alarming levels of inaction", AFP reported late yesterday.

The report said the declaration came as Europe faced a mounting number of cases — including a slew of new countries clocking first deaths — prompting governments to roll out increasingly tough measures to slow the rapid spread of the virus.

The number of cases across the globe has risen to more than 124,000 with 4,500 deaths, including a jump in fatalities in Iran and Italy in particular, according to an AFP tally.

The report said the majority of cases have been in China where the outbreak first emerged in December, but as the number of new infections has steadied in the country, hotspots have emerged elsewhere — namely Italy, Iran and Spain.

The head of the UN's top health body for the first time characterised the outbreak as a pandemic, meaning it is spreading in several regions through local transmission.

"We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday, adding that the declaration would not change the organisation's response to the outbreak.

"We're deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."

He did not single out any nations for not doing enough -- or what further measures were needed -- instead calling on "countries to take urgent and aggressive action".

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