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WHO declares COVID-19 disease to be a pandemic

The coronavirus crisis continues to unfold across the globe as the World Health Organization uses the word for the first time.
Image: Slovakia
A worker wearing protective clothes disinfects the inside of a public bus in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Wednesday.Vladimir Simicek / AFP - Getty Images

For the first time, the World Health Organization called the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic. Meanwhile, the United States now has more than 1,000 people infected with the coronavirus — but testing in the country is still ramping up, meaning that number could continue to climb.

WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

On Wednesday, the governor of New York questioned the number of people who have been tested for the virus in the U.S.

“When they do the retrospective on this one, they are going to say, 'Why did it take the Unites States so long to bring up the testing capacity?'” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on "TODAY." On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he was implementing a "containment area" around a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle, home to one of the largest clusters of coronavirus cases in the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that more than 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus across the U.S. Because multiple specimens are required from each individual, the number of actual patients who have been tested is likely far lower.

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WHO says coronavirus outbreak can be called a pandemic

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said that the new coronavirus outbreak "can be characterized as a pandemic," applying the term for the first time to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general.

WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

He said that calling the outbreak a pandemic "does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this #coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do."

Tech companies to meet with White House on coronavirus response

The White House is meeting with representatives from Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter on Wednesday to coordinate efforts over the growing coronavirus outbreak, a spokesperson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told Reuters.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios will lead the meeting, with some participants attending via teleconference, according to the spokesperson.

Currently, the U.S. has more than 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The number is expected to climb as testing becomes increasingly available.

Senate Dems unveil bill to provide economic relief amid outbreak

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic senators are introducing a relief proposal Wednesday to help the economy and U.S. communities as they address the coronavirus outbreak. 

Schumer's office said the measure would include the following provisions:

  • Six months of forbearance on federal student loans and mortgages.
  • Disaster grants to help local economies and direct grants for small businesses to help them survive during an economic downturn resulting from the virus. 
  • Grants for child care centers and K-12 schools that are affected by the virus. 
  • Transit assistance to help local transportation systems remain open.
  • Rental and mortgage payment assistance to those not covered under the six-month forbearance on federal loans.
  • Additional provisions would include paid sick days, emergency unemployment insurance, an increase in food stamps, food for kids during school closures, and free testing testing for the virus.

House Democrats are also preparing similar stimulus legislation, while President Donald Trump is pushing for a measure that includes a payroll tax cut. 

Deep cleaning at The New York Times

Treasury Department may delay tax deadline

The Treasury Department may extend the April 15 tax filing deadline in an attempt to mitigate the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, an administration official said on Wednesday.

In normal circumstances, individuals who don't meet the April 15 deadline are charged an additional interest fee or penalty.

Extending the deadline could relieve pressure for individuals and businesses, as the fallout from coronavirus has closed schools, forced workers to stay home and disrupted the global economy.

Fauci says of outbreak: 'Bottom line, it's going to get worse'

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. will get worse. 

Fauci's comment came at a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee when he was asked whether the worst is yet to come. 

"Yes, it is," Fauci told lawmakers at the hearing, which featured testimony from other federal health officials involved in combatting the outbreak. 

Fauci explained that when there's enough community spread in an outbreak — meaning the proliferation of an illness whose source of infection is unknown — "then it becomes a situation where you're not going to be able to effectively and efficiently contain it."

"Although we are containing it in some respects, we keep getting people coming in from the country that are travel-related," he said. "We've seen that in many of the states that are now involved. And when you get community spread, it makes the challenge much greater."

"So I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now," Fauci said. "How much worse we'll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country. Bottom line, it's going to get worse."

The scene in Codogno

Residents wait to do their shopping outside a supermarket in Codogno, southeast of Milan, on Wednesday, a day after Italy imposed unprecedented national restrictions on its 60 million people. Italy's coronavirus crisis began in Codogno on Feb. 21 when the first patient tested positive at a Codogno hospital.Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

Coronavirus precautions impact on Italy’s ‘dolce vita’

State media says Iran's first vice president has coronavirus as cases reach 9,000

Iran's first vice president, second in command to President Hassan Rouhani, has been diagnosed with coronavirus, Iran's state news agency reported Wednesday.

Fars news agency said Eshaq Jahangiri has tested positive. He was absent this morning from a cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Iran's health ministry reported 958 new cases, bringing the total to 9,000 since the outbreak began last month. 

A total of 354 people have died from the virus, with 63 new deaths compared to the day before.

Iran, along with South Korea and Italy, is one of the three global hot spots of the coronavirus epidemic.

Coronavirus conference canceled due to coronavirus

Coronavirus containment steps are disrupting the ability of leaders to come together in person to grapple with the virus itself.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy think tank, announced it canceled a meeting scheduled for Friday in New York called "Doing Business under Coronavirus," because of caution surrounding the coronavirus epidemic.

The group has canceled all external events through April, a spokesperson told NBC News.

"It's mostly for health concerns in light of the coronavirus outbreak. We would like everybody to take precautions," the spokesperson said.

Seoul subway trains disinfected as coronavirus cases increase in South Korea