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The coronavirus “outbreak” has officially been declared a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation, but what exactly does a ‘pandemic’ mean? Here’s a list of terms and definitions to help you out:


WHO’s pandemic declaration signals that health experts believe countries should focus less on containing the virus and more on preparations such as getting hospitals ready to handle an influx of patients.

“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,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.


By comparison, an epidemic was when there were more cases of an illness than health experts expected, University of Otago professor of public health Michael Baker said.

Covid-19, as the coronavirus has been named, is a relatively new virus, which has unique characteristics, so it was not known how many people would be infected when it was discovered.


An outbreak is a localised epidemic, Baker said. The word is often used to discuss the spread of an illness in a particular country.  For example, you could say that because New Zealand has now had five cases of the novel coronavirus, we are experiencing an outbreak.


The five people in New Zealand who have been confirmed to have coronavirus are in isolation. The aim of isolating people who have contracted an illness is to stop it spreading.


While the terms “isolation” and “quarantine” may sound much the same, their are some differences. People usually go into quarantine after they have been exposed to the virus, but don’t have symptoms. For coronavirus, it can take up to to 14 days before symptoms appear. So people who have had close contact with someone who has the virus will go into quarantine for two weeks.  Members of the coronavirus patients’ immediate families are in quarantine, despite not being sick.


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