The head of the World Health Organization said the agency declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency early enough — even though the deadly contagion has now infected millions of people worldwide.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus dismissed criticism Wednesday that the UN agency hasn’t acted fast enough, pointing out there were less than 100 cases outside of China when the virus received the emergency declaration.
“Looking back, I think we declared [the] emergency at the right time and when the rest of the world had enough time to respond,” Tedros told reporters Wednesday.
Tedros said a committee of experts came to the decision on Jan. 30 after failing to agree a week earlier.
There were no fatalities outside of China at the time of the decision, he said.
“We triggered the highest level of emergency when the rest of the world only had 82 cases and no deaths,” Tedros said.
Tedros’ defense came as the agency was questioned about whether it waited too long to label the outbreak a pandemic.
“The characterization of the disease of a pandemic has no basis other than a description of the disease at that time,” said Executive Director Dr. Mike Ryan.
The WHO reported Wednesday there were now nearly 2.5 million cases and more than 160,000 deaths worldwide.
Tedros warned there were still some countries in the “early stages” and other places were seeing a resurgence.
“Make no mistake. We have a long way to go,” Tedros said. “This virus will be with us for a long time.”
He added that the virus “remains extremely dangerous” despite social distancing measures.
“Early evidence suggests most of the world’s population remains susceptible,” he said. “That means epidemics can easily reignite.”