The World Health Organisation began a two-day summit in Geneva today to fast-track tests, drugs and vaccines to help slow the outbreak of the virus, which has now infected over 43,000 people worldwide and killed 1018.
More than 300 scientists will dial in remotely to the conference, with WHO director-general
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describing the epidemic as “very much an emergency” for China but also “one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world”.
Professor Gabriel Leung, Hong Kong’s leading epidemiologist, warned that anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent of the world’s population could contract the virus if it wasn’t contained, based on a previous study that found the current rate could see each infected person passing it on to 2.5 others.
“Is 60-80 per cent of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well,” he told The Guardian.
Professor Ramon Shaban of the University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District told news.com.au the coronavirus outbreak was already technically a pandemic.
“In technical terms it is a pandemic as there is the occurrence of multiple infections at multiple sites,” he said.
He noted that WHO’s declaration of a public health emergency was simply the contemporary language being used to describe a pandemic.
He said the fact that the disease could be spread before someone showed symptoms would also make it harder to track and to manage.
CHINA REMAINS IN LOCKDOWN
The daily death toll in China from a new virus topped 100 for the first time overnight.
Despite the official end of the extended Lunar New Year holiday, China remained mostly closed for business as many remained at home, with some 60 million people under virtual quarantine.
With the death toll reaching 1,016 in mainland China and no end in sight, heads are beginning to roll.
While no central government-level officials have lost their jobs, state media reported Tuesday that the top health officials in Hubei province, home to the epicentre of Wuhan, have been relieved of their duties.
No reasons were given, although the province’s initial response was deemed slow and ineffective.
Speculation that higher-level officials could be sacked has simmered, but doing so could spark political infighting and be a tacit admission that the Communist Party dropped the ball.
The virus outbreak has become the latest political challenge for the party and its leader, Xi Jinping, who despite accruing more political power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, has struggled to handle crises on multiple fronts. These include a sharply slowing domestic economy, the trade war with the US and push-back on China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policies.
A total of 42,638 virus infections have been recorded on the Chinese mainland.
Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said that while the virus outbreak in China may peak this month, the sMituation at the centre of the crisis remains more challenging.
“We still need more time of hard working in Wuhan,” he said of the central Chinese city where the outbreak started.
Speaking by teleconference to doctors in Wuhan, Zhong said the priority is to separate the infected from the healthy in their city.
“We have to stop more people from being infected,” he said. “The problem of human to human transmission has not yet been resolved.” Without enough facilities to handle the number of cases, Wuhan has been building prefab hospitals and converting a gym and other large spaces to house patients and try to isolate them from others.
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