Though at the moment just four countries -- China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran -- account for a vast majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus thinks we're getting close to experiencing a pandemic level event.

"Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real," Tedros said at a news conference, referring to the novel coronavirus.

Tedros does think the world can still keep the outbreak under control. We're "not at the mercy of the virus," he said, adding that it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.

WHO officials noted that reducing the flow of people out of the hardest-hit areas -- Wuhan and Hubei provinces in China, and the northern region of Lombardy and parts of Veneto in Italy -- has helped stem the spread of the coronavirus. Those measures have also given other areas time to prepare, which should result in better responses and better outcomes.

People on the sidewalk wearing face masks

Image source: Getty Images.

Multiple drugmakers are testing treatments for COVID-19. The most advanced drugs available to be studied are antiviral medications that were developed for other viruses, such as Gilead Sciences' (GILD -0.84%) remdesivir and Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ -0.85%) HIV treatment Prezcobix.

Other companies, including Moderna (MRNA -1.75%) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO -6.21%), have developed potential vaccines against the virus. Clinical trials for those are scheduled to start shortly, but even assuming they are effective, it'll likely be a year or more before they're ready for widespread use.