WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- A top infectious-disease scientist warns the world of the possibility that coronavirus could infect two-thirds of the people worldwide.
- Quarantining measures are not going to stop this virus, says the infectious-disease scientist.
- The current official tally of infected individuals increased by almost 15,000 on Thursday as diagnostic methods are widened.
A top infectious-disease scientist advising the World Health Organization (WHO) issues a warning that the coronavirus outbreak could infect two-thirds of the global population as the number of confirmed cases jumps dramatically in China.
This estimate was made by scientist Ira Longini, co-director of the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida. He explains that this implies there could eventually be billions of more infections than the current official tally of about 60,000.
This disease model used by Longini is based on the given data showing that a person who tested positive for coronavirus could transmit the disease to two to three other people.
“Unless the transmissibility changes, surveillance, and containment can only work so well,” Longini said in an interview at WHO headquarters, Geneva. “Isolating cases and quarantining contacts is not going to stop this virus.”
Longini also points out that rapid tests for diagnosis are still lacking. This coupled with the relative mildness of the infection in some people makes tracking the spread of the virus more difficult.
The number of infected individuals in China increased by almost 15,000 on Thursday after widening diagnostics.
Longini is joined by other scientists in warning of the possibility of a far greater spread. Researcher Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London estimates a daily average of infection at 50,000 in China alone. Gabriel Leung is a public health professor at the University of Hong Kong. He also estimated that at least two-thirds of the world could catch the virus if left unchecked.
These projections are affected by a range of possibilities said biostatistician Alessandro Vespignani at Northeastern University in Boston. Over the next few weeks, he says, these possibilities could unfold, more information on how the virus is transmitted could be provided, and lead to further control measures that could be put in place.
“People change behaviors” Vespignani said. “This is kind of a worst-case scenario. It’s one of the possibilities.”
This is supported by infectious disease expert David Heymann from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who oversaw the WHO’s response to SARS in 2003. More data is needed to be gathered to gain a better idea of how far the virus is likely to range, he said, adding:
“We’re seeing countries outside of China that have been able to contain the outbreak pretty well.”
More data need to be gathered to gain a better idea of how far the virus is likely to range, he said.
“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.”