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World Health Organization declares coronavirus outbreak a pandemic

A pandemic is described as a worldwide spread of disease, according to WHO.

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The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

A pandemic is described as a worldwide spread of disease, according to WHO. The agency said it thought long and hard about using the label — meaning a new virus causing sustained outbreaks in multiple regions of the world.

The declaration comes after more than 118,000 cases have been confirmed in 114 countries across the globe, and 4,291 people have lost their lives, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said as the designation was announced.

Tedros said the organization is concerned about the spread and severity of the virus.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert connected to Johns Hopkins University, said earlier this month that most cases are going to be mild and not require hospitalization. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia.

But by reversing course and using the word “pandemic” that WHO had previously shied away from, the United Nations health agency appeared to want to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.

"All countries can still change the course of this pandemic — if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response," Tedros said.

WHO added that Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against the virus that started in China.

Meanwhile, Italy has placed the entire country under quarantine, events such as St. Patrick's Day parades in the U.S. have been canceled and numerous U.S. universities have shifted to online classes.

For the global economy, virus repercussions were profound, with increasing concerns of wealth- and job-wrecking recessions. U.S. stocks wiped out more than all the gains from a huge rally a day earlier as Wall Street continues to reel.

In the U.S., more than 1,000 people have been infected. Officials in Seattle announced that public schools would close for about 53,000 students and large gatherings were banned in San Francisco and in Washington state, the hardest-hit U.S. state.

The vast majority of people recover. According to WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.