A Palestinian municipality worker wears protective gear while disinfecting a park Wednesday to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Rafah southern Gaza. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo
March 11 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization characterized the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic on Wednesday, as new cases spiked in Iran, Italy and other locations.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters the world health body had been "assessing this outbreak around the clock" and said, "We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
"We have therefore made the assessment that can be characterized as a pandemic."
The characterization does not activate any specific action, he explained, noting that it "doesn't change what WHO is doing, and it doesn't change what countries should do."
Rather, the gravity of using the "pandemic" characterization, which is defined as a worldwide epidemic, is intended to spur more decisive action from nations that have balked at taking the outbreak seriously, Ghebreyesus said. He did not name specific countries.
He also urged all nations to "activate and scale up" emergency response mechanisms, communicate about the risks and protections and find, isolate, test and treat every case.
There were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries as of Wednesday, with near 4,300 deaths worldwide.
Iran's health ministry reported a new daily record Wednesday -- nearly 1,000 new patients and 63 deaths.
The figures bring Iran's case total to 9,000, ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. He urged Iranians to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.
At a cabinet session, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said officials are "doing their best to minimize the COVID-19 toll on the economy and people's lives." He asked people to avoid traveling during the upcoming Nowruz holidays, or Persian New Year.
In China, Beijing reported only 24 new cases and 22 new deaths, all in the original hot spot of Hubei province.
The number of cases surpassed 10,000 in locked-down Italy -- including more than 500 new cases.
Civil Protection Chief Angelo Borrelli said late Tuesday Italy's death toll was up 168 since Monday.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the country would shut down all non-essential shops such as bars, restaurants and hairdressers, leaving only food stores and pharmacies open and continuing to allow home delivery.
The country had previously closed schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other businesses in response to the virus.
British cases climbed by 83, including six deaths. Nearly 27,500 people have been tested.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that up to 70 percent of her country's population could be infected if the spread is not stopped.
"The virus is here, we all have to understand that, and our political actions will follow from what scientists and experts tell us," she told reporters in Berlin.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, 1,296 Germans were infected as of Wednesday, with three confirmed deaths.