The news is grim — and keeps getting grimmer.
Jonathan Read, a British expert on the transmission and evolutionary dynamics of infectious diseases, predicts that hundreds of thousands of people will soon be infected with the coronvirus sweeping across China and moving already to other countries around the world.
“In 14 days’ time (4 February 2020), our model predicts the number of infected people in Wuhan to be greater than 190 thousand (prediction interval, 132,751 to 273,649),” Read and other researchers wrote in a new paper titled “Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV: early estimation of epidemiological parameters and epidemic predictions.”
“We predict the cities with the largest outbreaks elsewhere in China to be Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Chengdu. We also predict that by 4 Feb 2020, the countries or special administrative regions at greatest risk of importing infections through air travel are Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea,” the researchers wrote.
Among other key findings in the paper:
- We estimate that only 5.1% (95%CI, 4.8–5.5) of infections in Wuhan are identified, indicating a large number of infections in the community, and also reflecting the difficulty in detecting cases of this new disease. Surveillance for this novel pathogen has been launched very quickly by public health authorities in China, allowing for rapid assessment of the speed of increase of cases in Wuhan and other areas.
- Our model suggests that travel restrictions from and to Wuhan city are unlikely to be effective in halting transmission across China; with a 99% effective reduction in travel, the size of the epidemic outside of Wuhan may only be reduced by 24.9% on 4 February.
- We estimate the basic reproduction number of the infection (𝑅𝑅0) to be significantly greater than one. We estimate it to be between 3.6 and 4.0, indicating that 72-75% of transmissions must be prevented by control measures for infections to stop increasing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday warned that the spread of a deadly new virus — which starts with a fever and a dry cough and then, about a week later, leads to shortness of breath, with some patients needing hospital treatment — is accelerating. The coronavirus has killed at least 41 people and infected some 1,400 since its discovery in the city of Wuhan. There is no known cure or vaccine.
Other projections for similar viruses are far worse. A pandemic simulation conducted late last year, called Event 201, showed devastating results. Put together by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Event 21 used a made-up coronavirus.
“The pretend outbreak started small: Farmers began coming down with symptoms that resembled the flu or pneumonia. From there, the virus spread to crowded and impoverished urban neighborhoods in South America,” Yahoo News reported. “Flights were canceled, and travel bookings dipped by 45%. People disseminated false information on social media. After six months, the virus had spread around the globe. A year later, it had killed 65 million people.”
According to Yahoo! News, the simulated pandemic “also triggered a global financial crisis” that saw stock markets collapse and “global domestic product plunged by 11 percent.” Eric Toner, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security told Axios the threats from infectious disease outbreaks and another pandemic are “very real.”
“As we demonstrated in our Event 201 exercise in October, the world is ill-prepared for a severe pandemic. Such a global disease outbreak would not only cause widespread illness and death but there would be severe societal and economic consequences as well,” Toner told Axios.