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Declaring coronavirus outbreak a pandemic would have ‘pros and cons,’ says expert

Be prepared to delay upcoming holiday travel because of COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Marcos Espinal of the Pan American Health Organization tells Mercedes Stephenson that for their own protection, people need to know which areas are being affected by the novel coronavirus and be ready to postpone travel.

The spread of a novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 is showing signs that it could meet the criteria to be called a pandemic, one expert says.

But Dr. Marcos Espinal from the Pan-American Health Organization told The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson doing so would carry both benefits and potential risks.

“The pandemic issue has pros and cons because the word pandemic can also create fear, stigma and can also suggest that the international community cannot contain this virus,” he said, calling the question a “very fine line.”

READ MORE: WHO raises global risk of coronavirus spread to ‘very high’

“On the other hand, we firmly believe that it is a pandemic when we start observing sustained transmission in the community. We have seen that in three countries so far: Italy, South Korea and Iran.

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“So we are watching this critically and the next few hours will be crucial.”

The World Health Organization on Friday raised its risk assessment for the spread of the coronavirus to “very high.”

It’s the highest risk level the organization has and comes as the number of countries reporting cases rises to almost 60.

There are now roughly 83,000 cases worldwide and around 2,871 deaths so far.

Tips for travelling amid ongoing coronavirus concerns
Tips for travelling amid ongoing coronavirus concerns

New cases have until recently been primarily reported in mainland China, which officials have pointed to as the origin of the new virus. But recently, the number of cases in other countries has begun to outpace those in China.

READ MORE: Is Canada ready for a widespread coronavirus outbreak? Yes and no, experts say

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A wet market in Wuhan is the suspected epicentre of the outbreak, and in an effort to contain its spread, China implemented an unprecedented quarantine for some 50 million people in that city and the surrounding area over the last two months.

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Italy, South Korea and Iran have seen some of the fastest growth in the number of new cases, and travellers from those regions have been linked to outbreaks and cases in other countries including Canada, Nigeria and Mexico in recent days.

READ MORE: Canadian coronavirus cases linked to Iran rise, experts question country’s response

Espinal, who is director of the Pan-American Health Organization’s department of communicable diseases and health analysis, said there are disparities between how countries across North America, Central America and South America are prepared to respond.

“The Americas [are] a very interesting region because we have high-income countries in the north … but we also have middle-income countries. The bulk of countries are also low-income countries,” he said.

“The health systems are really not homogenous in terms of preparations.”

In Canada specifically, though, he said health officials have been taking appropriate measures so far and the comparative strength of Canada’s health care system makes him confident Canadians can put their faith in it.

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“Canada has one of the strongest health systems in the world,” he said.

“So I think the citizens of Canada need to trust the health system, trust the authorities, because I think what they are doing is in the right direction.

“Nobody can predict what’s going to happen, but we can’t also say it’s going to be Armageddon.”

Italy now the centre of Europe’s COVID-19 outbreak
Italy now the centre of Europe’s COVID-19 outbreak