Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said the WHO is “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the outbreak.
A pandemic is a disease that spreads in a number countries around the world at the same time, and sees an ‘increased and sustained transmission in the general population’.
Dr Tedros called on world governments to take "urgent and aggressive action".
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He added: “Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
"The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same - it's whether they will.
‘Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly.
“It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
Despite killing thousands globally, SARS and Ebola were not declared pandemics. The last pandemic declared was H1N1 influenza, in 2009.
Six people have died from the virus in the UK, while two UK citizens overseas have also died after becoming infected.