The window of opportunity for containment is still here, health officials say — but it is closing down rapidly.
“The window of opportunity is still there, but the window of opportunity is narrowing,” the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a briefing on Friday. “We need to act quickly before it closes completely.”
He was referring to the rising number of coronavirus cases outside of China.
Covid-19 was threatening right from the start, being very contagious, as well as quite deadly — a rare and dangerous combination. But for better or for worse, the virus seemed to be contained to China, in large part thanks to massive efforts by Chinese authorities.
Even as the virus was spreading and the number of cases was continuously growing, 99% or more of all cases were restricted to China. The WHO refused to class the outbreak as a pandemic for this explicit reason: the virus was not truly global.
This might no longer be the case.
Out of the 80,000 total confirmed cases, almost 1,000 are in South Korea, 270 in Italy, and 160 in Japan. More than 2% of all Covid-19 cases are now outside of China, and the outbreak seems to be spreading in several countries.
As of Tuesday, more than 2,600 cases of the virus have been reported outside of mainland China.
A turning point
There was a ray of optimism about a week ago as China’s efforts seemed to be rewarded. The number of cases was stabilizing and it seemed that we may soon reach ‘peak coronavirus’. But this hope took a big hit as Italy and South Korea started reporting the first fatalities, quickly uncovering dozens of uncontained cases. Iran and the US also report over 50 confirmed cases, and the more such cases get confirmed, the more the chance of containment decreases.
“The COVID-19 incident has been confronted by a grave watershed,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said at a government meeting about the crisis. “A few days from now is a very important moment.”
Indeed, it seems that we might soon be reaching a tipping point: either the existing cases are contained and quarantined now, or we just have to accept that containment is no longer an option, and instead, start focusing on resilience methods.
Several specialists are already claiming that the window is closed, and it’s time to stop focusing on quarantine, and instead start taking more proactive steps.
Still, the WHO believes there is still a chance to prevent a pandemic.
“There’s a lot of speculation about whether these increases mean that this epidemic has now become a pandemic,” Tedros said. “Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”
Whether or not the virus will cause a pandemic remains to be seen — and we will see within the next few days or weeks.