GENEVA, March 11 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that the COVID-19 outbreak can be characterized as a "pandemic" as the virus spreads increasingly worldwide.
"We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.
The WHO is "deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, as well as by the alarming levels of inaction," he added.
There are now more than 118,000 confirmed cases in 114 countries and regions, and 4,291 people have lost their lives, Tedros said, noting that the number of coronavirus cases, deaths, as well as affected countries is expected to climb even higher in the days and weeks ahead.
"We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time," he added, stressing "all countries can still change the course of this pandemic."
Thanks to the arduous efforts of the Chinese government and people, China's prevention and control has achieved progress with daily new confirmed cases declining from thousands to 24 on Tuesday. Beijing has also sent medical teams to other countries to help contain the spread of the virus.
However, cases of infection have been rising rapidly in Europe and other parts of the world, with Italy being the hardest-hit country.
The total number of confirmed cases in Italy has surged past 12,000 as of Wednesday, despite its drastic measure of locking down the entire country.
Tedros said describing the situation as a pandemic does not change the WHO's assessment of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus, nor does it change what the WHO is doing and countries should do.
He called on all countries to strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights in the midst of the pandemic.
To shore up its economy, the British government on Wednesday pledged 30 billion pounds (39 billion U.S. dollars) in a stimulus plan. Italy also decided to allocate 25 billion euros (28.3 billion dollars) to deal with the COVID-19 emergency in the country.
"This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector," Tedros said at the press conference, urging every sector and individual to be involved in the global fight against COVID-19.
"We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear," he said.