By JAMEY KEATEN, MARIA CHENG and JOHN LEICESTER
GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic as U.S. stocks plunged into bear market territory and several American cities joined European counterparts in banning large gatherings.
By reversing course and using the charged word “pandemic” that it had previously shied away from, the U.N. health agency sought to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.
“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief.
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” he said. “We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”
After downplaying the threat of the virus for days, U.S. President Donald Trump was considering a national disaster declaration and new travel advisories. He was scheduled to deliver an Oval Office address to the nation Wednesday night.
In Italy, soccer club Juventus said defender Daniele Rugani tested positive and in the U.S., the battle to contain the epidemic prompted the NCAA to announce its championship basketball tournament would be played later this month without fans. Several other U.S. college and professional sports events have been either cancelled or ordered played in empty venues.
Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the fight against the virus that started in China, the WHO said.
“They’re suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.
For the global economy, virus repercussions were profound Wednesday, 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 continued to reel.