A pandemic, a word from the Greek pan (“all”) and demos (“people”), is the term used by disease experts when epidemics are growing in multiple countries and continents at the same time.
Despite the fear the word evokes, “pandemic” refers to the spread of a disease, not its potency or deadliness.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines the term as “an outbreak of a new pathogen that spreads easily from person to person across the globe”.
Today, WHO is declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
A disease outbreak will only be called a pandemic when it is widespread, over several countries or continents, and usually affecting a large number of people. The disease must also be infectious – cancer affects many people around the world, but it is not infectious and so is not a pandemic.
A pandemic is an epidemic on a far greater geographic scale that affects a much large number of people.
According to WHO’s pandemic preparedness plan, a response to a pandemic would require national governments to action the “full mobilisation of health systems, facilities, and workers at national and sub-national levels”, to “distribute personal protective equipment” and to “distribute antivirals and other medical supplies in accordance with national plans”.
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