BEIJING – The World Health Organization described the new coronavirus as a major global threat Tuesday while speaking out against some of the extreme measures that have been taken to contain it.
“A virus is more powerful in creating political, social and economic upheaval than any terrorist attack,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.
With scientists still learning about how the pathogen spreads and where it came from, one thing that the U.N. health agency was able to say with certainty was that the disease has been officially named Covid-19.
The abbreviation stands for coronavirus disease 2019, and was intended to “prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” Tedros said.
To prevent the outbreak from turning into a pandemic, governments must help poorer countries now so that their health systems become able to stem the virus, Tedros said.
He noted that 99% of the cases have occurred within China and only two fatalities have been reported outside the Chinese mainland.
But he said it was “concerning” that person-to-person transmissions to people with no travel history to China had recently appeared in France and Britain.
Tedros made the comments at the launch of a two-day scientific conference in Geneva on Tuesday to speed up the development of medications and vaccines for the new coronavirus.
It might take 18 months before a medication is developed, according to Tedros.
The virus has thrown industries that do business with China into chaos, including travel and tourism.
In Washington, D.C., Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned that Covid-19 could have a broader financial impact around the world.
It “could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, a raft of deaths and new infections continue to be reported in China. The country’s daily death toll topped 100 for the first time since the virus emerged in late December.
On Monday, 108 people died because of the virus, according to figures released by the country’s health authorities, a spike that exceeded the 97 deaths recorded the day before. The death toll now stands at 1,113.
Within the same 24-hour period, 2,478 new infections were confirmed across China, bringing the total tally up to 44,653.
Two stranded cruise ships have illustrated the fears surrounding Covid-19.
The Diamond Princess, operated by Carnival cruises, remained quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, where it has been for a week. At least 135 cases of infection have been confirmed on board, with the ill removed and taken to the hospital.
Thailand, meanwhile, became the latest country to deny entry to a luxury cruise ship operated by the Holland America Line, even though no cases have been confirmed on board.
WHO emergency operations chief Mike Ryan urged governments to respect the “dignity and human rights of travelers.”
Health concerns must be balanced with the goal of keeping economies and societies working.
“We must accept that under these circumstances there is no such thing as zero risk,” he added.