Coronavirus pandemic accelerating at 'exponential rate', 'millions could die' - World Health Organization

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is now accelerating at an "exponential rate" and that millions could die.

The G20 Summit was held on Friday morning via a videoconference, with the likes of US President Donald Trump, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe all streaming in from their offices. 

Top of the agenda was the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world over the last three months, infecting more than 500,000 people and killing 23,000. While the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) originated in China, infecting 81,000 people there, both Italy and the United States have been badly hit, with both looking to soon overtake China to have the most cases.

G20 world leaders stream in.
G20 world leaders stream in. Photo credit: Getty.

Speaking to the G20, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus again called the pandemic the "defining health crisis of our time".

"We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart - if we let it… This is a global crisis that requires a global response. Fight, unite, ignite."

Those three words came with three challenges for the world. First, fight to virus without excuses or regrets, second, have all countries unite and work together, and third, ignite a global movement to ensure this never happens again.

Dr Ghebreyesus said the pandemic is now accelerating at an "exponential rate".

"Without aggressive action in all countries, millions could die."

In response to the pandemic, the G20 has called for full funding for the WHO‘s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. The countries will also increase research funding for vaccines and medicines and develop new means of scientific cooperation. The WHO has also been asked to assess any gaps in its pandemic preparedness and to report back to the nations. 

What we know about coronavirus

WHO was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread via human-to-human transmission. It causes the coronavirus COVID-19 illness.

The virus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs, however, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces isn't fully understood, but some viruses can remain active for days. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • not eating shared or communal food
  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

An explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here. Full information can also be found at

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.