The coronavirus that has spread through Chinese cities and is now reaching many other countries around the world is “a very grave threat”, according to the director general of the World Health Organization.
“Viruses can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at a meeting in Geneva looking for solutions to the crisis.
With the arrival of a vaccine estimated to take 18 months, “we have to do everything today using available weapons,” he said. The number of cases has been rising exponentially day by day but this could just be the “tip of the iceberg”, he warned.
Tedros announced that the virus had been named COVID-19, explaining that it was important to avoid stigma and that other names could be inaccurate.
Under guidelines issued in 2015, it is WHO policy to avoid using the names of places or people, whilst ‘terms that incite undue fear’ are also banned.
The world must “wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one,” said Tedros.
Earlier Prof Gabriel Leung, the chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University and one of Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologists, warned that the coronavirus epidemic could spread to about two-thirds of the world’s population if it could not be controlled.
“60% of the world’s population is an awfully big number,” he told the Guardian.
To date the virus has infected more than 42,000 people, killing 1,000, and has spread to at least 25 countries, with the WHO declaring a global health emergency.