News surrounding the coronavirus outbreak didn’t get any better Wednesday as the World Health Organization officially labeled COVID-19 a global pandemic, pouring even more cold water on an already awful day of trading.
The WHO is cautious to label any ailment a global pandemic, which generally means an illness that spreads across the globe, because it can have major economic and political ramifications.
“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference.
Markets were already reeling and the WHO’s announcement sent stocks sliding even further. As of 3:10 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has cratered another 1,627 points, or 6.5%. The S&P 500 also tanked 5.8% and the Nasdaq was down 5.6%.
The coronavirus has spread from its origin point in Wuhan, China, to infect more than 121,000 people across the globe. Over 4,300 people have died from the disease, and cases outside of China have increased rapidly.
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Tedros said. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher.”
Tedros didn’t shy away from calling out some country’s response to the virus.
“We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
The director called all countries to action in fighting the further spread of COVID-19.
“We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” Tedros said. “Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said labeling anything a global pandemic is not taken lightly, and that the organization understands “the implication of the word.”
“The fact is right now in countries, we have front-line health workers who need our help,” he said. “We have hospitals who need our support. We have people who need our care and we need to focus on getting our front-line health workers the equipment, supplies and the training they need to do a good job.”
And he echoed some of Tedros’ sentiments on COVID-19 strategies, calling on countries to step up and let the WHO know what they are doing.
“All countries need to reveal their strategies right now,” Ryan said.