The World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment for the novel coronavirus to “very high” from “high” as several countries are struggling with containment.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it’s concerning that cases of the virus, which emerged in China, have been spreading from Italy and Iran to other countries. Health systems around the world aren’t ready to deal with the spread, he said.
Raising the risk level is meant to spur officials to step up their responses, said Mike Ryan, who runs the agency’s emergencies program.
“This is a reality check for every government,” he said at a briefing Friday. “The window of opportunity is closing. Wake up.”
Ryan said it would be unhelpful to declare the disease a pandemic because that would imply that everyone in the world would get it. Countries including China, Singapore, Nepal and Vietnam have shown that containment measures can work, the WHO said.
The agency in late January declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, a designation that sent an important message about its severity. At the time, the WHO didn’t recommend restrictions on travel or trade, but many countries and companies have taken such steps.