More than 75,000 people – ten times the official confirmed case count – have been infected with Wuhan’s coronavirus, cleared by a global health emergency, according to research released Friday. “We estimate that 75,815 people have been infected in Wuhan since January 25, 2020,” said a team led by Gabriel Leung of the University of Hong Kong in The Lancet. As of January 31, the Chinese government has said that the number of confirmed cases has risen to over 9,700 across China, including 213 deaths. For Hubei province – including Wuhan, a city in central China of 11 million – the official figure was about 6,000 confirmed cases and just over 200 dead. The World Health Organization declared the epidemic a global health emergency on Thursday, but said it did not recommend any restrictions on international trade or travel. “The apparent discrepancy between our modeled estimates of 2019-nCoV infections and the actual number of confirmed cases in Wuhan could be due to several factors,” said Leung in a statement. A delay between infection and symptom onset, delays in infected people receiving medical care, and the time needed to confirm cases with laboratory tests “could all affect overall registration and reporting,” he said.
The study found that each person infected with the virus, which emerged in December, could have averaged two to three individuals and that the outbreak had doubled every 6.4 days. If the virus spreads so rapidly nationwide, “it is possible that epidemics are already growing in larger Chinese cities, 1-2 weeks later than Wuhan,” said co-author Joseph Wu, professor at the University of Hong Kong. “Large cities overseas with close transport links to China could potentially also become epicenters of outbreaks.” If the new case estimate is accurate, it would mean that the 2019-nCoV virus mortality rate is significantly lower than the suggested preliminary data, with far less than one percent of the cases proving fatal. But a low mortality rate can still result in a large number of deaths if the virus spreads widely. Seasonal flu, for example, kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, the death rate among people infected with the flu is 0.13 percent, the Centers for Disease Control calculated. 2019-nCoV is part of the coronavirus family, which was the source of two previous fatal epidemics. The SARS epidemic of 2002/03 (severe acute respiratory syndrome) started in Guangdong province and killed 774 people out of a total of 8,096 infected. The 2012 MERS epidemic (Middle East respiratory syndrome) killed 858 people out of 2,494 infected. The respective mortality rates for SARS and MERS patients were 9.5 and 34.5 percent, much higher than for the new coronavirus.
© Agence France-Presse