A worker in a protective suit checks the temperature of a man in Beijing. WHO has declared coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.
File photo of a worker in a protective suit checking the temperature of a man (Representational image) | ANI via Reuters
Text Size:

London: As the number of coronavirus cases jumps dramatically in China, a top infectious-disease scientist warns that things could get far worse: Two-thirds of the world’s population could catch it.

So says Ira Longini, an adviser to the World Health Organization who tracked studies of the virus’s transmissibility in China. His estimate implies that there could eventually be billions more infections than the current official tally of about 60,000.

If the virus spreads to anywhere near that extent, it will show the limitations of China’s strict containment measures, including quarantining areas inhabited by tens of millions of people. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has credited those steps with giving the rest of China and the world a “window” in which to prepare.

Quarantines may slow the spread, but the virus had the opportunity to roam in China and beyond before they went into effect, Longini said. The country boosted its count of those infected by almost 15,000 on Thursday after widening the diagnosis methods.

Longini’s modeling is based on data showing that each infected person normally transmits the disease to two to three other people. A lack of rapid tests and the relative mildness of the infection in some people also makes it difficult to track its spread, he said.


Also read: Coronavirus in China claims 254 lives — highest in a single day, death toll rises to 1,367


Reducing Transmission

Even if there were a way to reduce transmission by half, that would still imply that roughly one-third of the world would become infected, Longini said.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

“Unless the transmissibility changes, surveillance and containment can only work so well,” Longini, co-director of the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida, said in an interview at WHO headquarters in Geneva. “Isolating cases and quarantining contacts is not going to stop this virus.”

He’s not alone in warning of the possibility of a far greater spread. Neil Ferguson, a researcher at Imperial College London, estimated that as many as 50,000 people may be infected each day in China. Gabriel Leung, a public health professor at the University of Hong Kong, has also said close to two-thirds of the world could catch the virus if it is left unchecked.

The estimates of spread are part of a spectrum of possibilities that could unfold as the epidemic progresses, said Alessandro Vespignani, a biostatistician at Northeastern University in Boston. The next few weeks may provide more information about how easily the disease spreads outside China, particularly if more measures are put in place to control it, he said.

“People change behaviors” in response to disease, he said. “This is kind of a worst-case scenario. It’s one of the possibilities.”

More data need to be gathered to gain a better idea of how far the virus is likely to range, said David Heymann, an infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who oversaw the WHO’s response to SARS in 2003. “We’re seeing countries outside of China that have been able to contain the outbreak pretty well.”

“I’m not saying they’re wrong,” he said of estimates from the likes of Longini and Leung. “I’m saying the models will be refined as more information comes to light.”-Bloomberg


Also read: Novel coronavirus cannot pass from mother to child in late pregnancy, says Lancet study


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

1 Comment Share Your Views

1 COMMENT

  1. The nature is the best leveler! When we, humans, think that we have mastered many things and have supremacy over nature, nature finds its way to show us who is the master! Though this epidemic will subside eventually, but before that, nature will show us how insignificant as well as hypocrite we are !

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here