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Coronavirus is ‘Public Enemy Number 1’: WHO chief warns final death toll depends on future actions

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus talks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Calling the coronavirus pandemic “Public Enemy No. 1,” World Health Organization officials warned Wednesday that the final death toll of the outbreak depends on how governments and citizens respond to the spreading pandemic.

“The pandemic continues to take a massive toll,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing.

“We have overcome many pandemics and crises before. We will overcome this one, too. The question is how large a price we will pay.”

“We have lost more than 16,000 lives, we will lose more. How many more will be determined by the decisions we make,” Tedros said.

In fact, the global death toll is now nearly 20,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global infections have risen to over 441,000, according to JHU.

Tedros on Wednesday lamented the delay in getting enough national governments to respond agressively to the outbreak after it began several months ago in China.

“We have been saying for more than two months now this virus is public enemy number one,” Tedros said.

“It’s a dangerous virus. We had been saying to the world the window of opportunity is narrowing and the time to act was actually more than a month ago, two months ago.”

He later said, “I think we squandered the first window of opportunity but we are saying today … this is a second opportunity that we should not squander.”

On Monday, Tedros had noted that, “It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.”

On Wednesday, Tedros said that the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone the Olympics was a “difficult but wise,” noting that it will protect athletes, spectators and officials.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates. 

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