According to the World Health Organisation, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.
"There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, & 4,291 people have lost their lives", he said.
There is no cure for COVID-19 and no vaccine, though scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. have said one could be ready for initial testing within months.
"We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear", said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization chief. H1N1, also known as swine flu, had more than 60 million cases in the US and almost 12,500 deaths; as many as 575,000 people died worldwide during the first year the virus circulated.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus related to COVID-19, and which infected about 8,000 people across 26 countries in 2003, did not reach pandemic status, for example.
"They're suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon", said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief.
World Health Organization said that 81 countries have not reported any COVID-19 cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less. Preparedness. Public health. Political leadership.
"Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly".
Trump announces all travel from Europe to be restricted amid coronavirus threat
Among other measures, officials were considering placing a "Level 3 Health Travel Notice" on the entire European Union. The United States will ban all travel from Europe in the latest effort to minimise the spread of coronavirus .
In the latest update from the MLHU last week, public health officials said that while social distancing can be a useful tool to prevent the spread of the virus, it is not needed for now in the city.
The WHO has not declared an worldwide pandemic since 2009 after the outbreak of the then-novel H1N1 virus.
Gov. Jay Inslee is expected Wednesday to ban gatherings of more than 250 people in virtually the entire Seattle metro area. Critics argued that the situation was not serious enough to warrant a pandemic declaration, and that giving it one caused unnecessary panic and precautions.
The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 appeared several months ago in China's Hubei province, but it's possible infections had been simmering at a low level for months before that.
The Czech Republic began containment procedures on Wednesday, closing tourist shops and schools and suspending events and gatherings of more than 100 people in an attempt to stem the spread of the new virus - the country now has more than 60 confirmed cases of the virus.
The worst affected countries after China are Italy (10,149 cases, 631 deaths), Iran (9,000 cases, 354 deaths), South Korea (7,755 cases, 60 deaths) and France (1,784 cases, 33 deaths).
In today's briefing, Dr Tedros said countries can still "turn the tide" on the spread. And individuals need to play a role as well, she said, including by washing their hands and keeping away from others if they might be sick. He said he was anxious about "the case load, the demand on the health workers, the dangers that come with fatigue, and potentially shortages of [personal protective equipment]".