Expert says Coronavirus outbreak is just the beginning
The flu-like virus has killed more than 1,100 people and infected nearly 45,000, predominantly in China and mostly in Wuhan. One expert said while the outbreak may be peaking at its epicentre in China, it was likely to spread elsewhere in the world, where it had just begun.
The coronavirus epidemic may be peaking in China where it was first detected in the central city of Wuhan but it is just beginning in the rest of the world and likely to spread, according to a global expert on infectious diseases.
The Chinese government's senior medical adviser has said the disease is hitting a peak in China and may be over by April. He said he was basing the forecast on mathematical modelling, recent events and government action. China reported on Wednesday its smallest number of new coronavirus cases since January, lending weight to this prediction.
Financial markets took heart from the outlook of the Chinese official, epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, who said on Tuesday the number of new cases was falling in some provinces, and forecast the epidemic would peak this month, even as the death toll in China rose to more than 1,100 people.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the epidemic poses a global threat akin to terrorism and one expert coordinating its response said while the outbreak may be peaking at its epicentre in China, it was likely to spread elsewhere in the world, where it had just begun.
Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network that is coordinated by the World Health Organization, said that predicted "time course" may well be true if the virus is allowed to run free in Wuhan.
"It's fair to say that's really what we are seeing," he told Reuters in an interview. "But it has spread to other places where it's the beginning of the outbreak. In Singapore, we are at the beginning of the outbreak."
The flu-like virus has killed more than 1,100 people and infected nearly 45,000, predominantly in China and mostly in Wuhan.
The pathogen has been named COVID-19 - CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged. It is suspected to have come from a market that illegally traded wildlife in Hubei's capital of Wuhan in December.
Singapore has reported 50 coronavirus cases, one of the highest tallies outside China, including mounting evidence of local transmission.
"I'd be pretty confident though that eventually every country will have a case," Fisher said.
Asked why there were so many cases in Singapore, he said there were comparatively more tests being conducted on the island.
"We have a very low index of suspicion for testing people so...we do have higher ascertainment," he said, but added that there was a lot about transmission of the virus yet to be understood.
Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at Singapore’s health ministry, told a news conference it was difficult to be confident in projections that the epidemic will peak in China this month but, in any case, peaks in other countries will lag China by one or two months.
Fisher said there was no justification for the kind of panic buying of essentials like rice and toilet rolls seen in Singapore.
"There's no suggestion we are going to run out of anything," he said. "I would just stay level-headed."
He said the elderly and those with diabetes were most at risk of serious illness.
"For the vast majority of people it will just be a mild illness but still treat it with respect," Fisher said.
Even if the epidemic ends soon, it has taken a toll of China's economy, with companies laying off workers and needing loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat. Supply chains for makers of items from cars to smartphones have broken down.