The World Health Organization is raising its global risk assessment of the coronavirus' spread and impact to "the highest level of alert."
During a news conference on Friday, WHO officials said the agency is adjusting its evaluation to "very high" based on "the continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries" in recent days. The panel said the measure is not intended to alarm anyone, but to get governments to step up efforts to protect citizens and contain the virus' spread.
They said they've yet to see evidence that the coronavirus "is spreading freely in communities," so it's still possible to contain it. But they said governments would need to take "robust action," including educating people and expanding efforts "to find, isolate and care for every case."
Officials also, once again, refused to classify the outbreak as a pandemic, saying doing so would hinder containment efforts.
"If we say there's a pandemic of coronvirus, we're essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to that virus," Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO health emergencies program, said. "The data does not support that as yet. And China have clearly shown that that's not necessarily the natural outcome of this event — if we take action. If we move quickly, if we do the things we need to do, that does not need to be the history of this event."
There are more than 83,000 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, according to the WHO's latest situation report.