“At this early stage, the pandemic can be characterized globally as being moderate in severity,” the world body said in the statement, urging nations to keep borders open, and travel and trade unrestricted. We “remain in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers,” it said.
The statement was the result of an emergency meeting called by WHO Director General Margaret Chan when officials observed a sharp rise in cases around the world, especially in Australia.
Several public health experts said they were not alarmed and had even anticipated the announcement, the outcome of a lengthy, cautious period of closely observing the progress of the infection.
“They’re just confirming what we already know,” said Martin Blaser, an infectious-disease expert at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “It is a pandemic; it has been spreading all over the world.”
And Philip Alcabes, an infectious-disease expert at Hunter College in New York and author of Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu, chimed in, saying, “I don’t see [the announcement] as being greatly consequential to the world’s health.”
He defended the WHO against charges that it dragged its feet in declaring a pandemic, saying he agreed with the organization’s careful approach, which shunned alarmism. He said that, while the six-point alert system is acceptable, a better strategy would be to concentrate on how outbreaks occur and what public-health officials can do to stop them.
Blaser said the announcement is no cause for worry among ordinary citizens. “There’s no hidden meaning,” he said. “For public-health authorities, they’ll just watch this carefully and take appropriate actions.”