When the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a pandemic one year ago, it did so only after weeks of resisting the term and maintaining the highly infectious virus could still be stopped.
A year later, the U.N. agency is still struggling to keep on top of the evolving science of COVID-19, to persuade countries to abandon their nationalistic tendencies and help get vaccines where they’re needed most. WHO waved its first big warning flag on January 30, 2020, by calling the outbreak an international health emergency.
Only when WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared a “Pandemic” six weeks later, on March 11, did most governments take action, experts say. By then, it was too late, and the virus had reached every continent except Antarctica. The agency made some costly missteps along the way: It advised people against wearing masks for months and asserted that COVID-19 wasn’t widely spread in the air. It also declined to publicly call out countries “particularly China” for mistakes that senior WHO officials grumbled about privately.
Globally, there’s been 118 million coronavirus cases and 2.6 million confirmed deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The United States leads the world with 29 million cases and more than 529,000 deaths.