The coronavirus outbreak in China may be up to 10 times worse than Chinese officials are reporting, say the authors of a new study.
China has already reported 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths. But the scope of the contagion may be many times greater than Chinese officials admit to, the study contends.
“The numbers for cumulative cases, new cases per day, and cumulative deaths coming from … non-official data are all substantially higher by a factor of 5 to 10,” economics professor Lucia Dunn of Ohio State University, and pathology professor Mai He of Washington University School of Medicine, say in a research paper released this week.
Dunn and He say they crunched data from “credible non-official sources” – including the number of reported cremations and reports of possibly more accurate numbers on cases that appeared briefly on China's largest internet portal, Tencent, and then were suppressed.
They then developed a model to estimate the incidence and other parameters of the outbreak, including its potential starting time, which they believe could have been as early as last October, months before the Chinese government revealed the existence of the coronavirus.
Strengthening the research conclusions is a report in The Epoch Times that several major crematoriums in Wuhan – where the illness is believed to have started – have been operating around the clock since late January, a whopping 20 more hours per day than usual.
Just as disturbing is a new report from scientists in London estimating that “two thirds of COVID-19 cases exported from mainland China may be undetected.”
“We compared the average monthly number of passengers traveling from Wuhan to major international destinations with the number of COVID-19 cases that have been detected overseas,” said Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling at Imperial College London. “Our findings confirm similar analyses carried out by other groups.”
Dr. Natsuko Imai, who helped compile the report, added: “We are starting to see more cases reported from countries and regions outside mainland China with no known travel history or link to Wuhan City.’’
And “it is highly likely that some of these undetected cases will have started chains of transmission within the countries they entered,” said Neil Ferguson, another scientist on the study.
Signs of transmission of the coronavirus can take just a few days day to materialize after the initial infection, according to the Zhoushan Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Zhoushan, China. And it can spread during the most mundane of tasks, such as eating a meal, they learned while interviewing victims.
In one case, a 45-year-old teacher from Wuhan joined two people for dinner at an educational conference and they ate from common serving plates. Some 72 hours later, the teacher “experienced the onset of fever, cough, sore throat, and malaise” and was confirmed to have COVID-19.
But sometimes, there are little or no symptoms.
"Worryingly, it seems that the virus can pass from person to person without symptoms, making it extremely difficult track, regardless of what health authorities do," Simon Clarke, an expert in cellular microbiology at Britain's University of Reading, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, the number of U.S. cases of novel coronavirus rose Monday to 53, most of the victims having been passengers aboard the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Also Monday, the World Health Organization while it was too early to label the coronavirus crisis a pandemic, nations around the world should be "in a phase of preparedness."
"For the moment we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large scale severe disease or deaths. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a news conference, the BBC reported.
"Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet."
But an explosion of new cases in Italy, South Korea, and Iran has fueled fears that the coronavirus is far from under control.
In Italy, where five people have died and at least 219 others have been infected, police have erected checkpoints around at least 11 towns. The famed Venice Carnival has also been cancelled this year.
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