Coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus: China's new cases ease, but world still on alert

A customer placing money into a container on a stick held out by an employee at a restaurant in Beijing yesterday, while food is passed to customers along a makeshift ramp, in a bid to minimise contact as China deals with the coronavirus outbreak. A
A customer placing money into a container on a stick held out by an employee at a restaurant in Beijing yesterday, while food is passed to customers along a makeshift ramp, in a bid to minimise contact as China deals with the coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS
A customer placing money into a container on a stick held out by an employee at a restaurant in Beijing yesterday, while food is passed to customers along a makeshift ramp, in a bid to minimise contact as China deals with the coronavirus outbreak. A
A boy having his temperature checked at a road block in Guangzhou, in China's Guangdong province, on Monday. China yesterday reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in nearly two weeks.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Global expert warns outbreak just beginning elsewhere in the world, as virus spreads

BEIJING • China yesterday reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in nearly two weeks, lending weight to a forecast by its foremost medical adviser that the outbreak may end around April, but a global expert warned it was only beginning elsewhere.

The 2,015 new confirmed cases took China's total to 44,653.

That was the lowest daily rise since Jan 30 which saw an increase of 1,982 cases from the previous day.

The latest figures came a day after leading epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan forecast the epidemic would peak in China this month before subsiding.

"I hope this outbreak or this event may be over by something like April," Prof Zhong, who is leading a government-appointed panel of experts to help control the virus outbreak, told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We don't know why it's so contagious, so that's a big problem," said Prof Zhong, who helped identify flaws in China's emergency response systems during the 2002 to 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis.

He said there was a gradual reduction in new cases in the southern province of Guangdong where he is based, and also in Zhejiang province and elsewhere. "So that's good news for us."

He said he was basing the forecast on mathematical modelling, recent events and government action.

His comments gave some balm to public fears and to markets, where global stocks surged to record highs on hopes of an end to disruption in the world's second-largest economy.

But an Australian infectious diseases expert said that while it may be peaking in China, this was not the case beyond.

"It has spread to other places where it's the beginning of the outbreak," Professor Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), said in an interview in Singapore.

"In Singapore, we are at the beginning of the outbreak," he noted.

"I'd be pretty confident though that eventually every country will have a case," he added.

TOO EARLY TO SAY

I think it's far too premature to say that.... We've just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions.

AUSTRALIA'S CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER BRENDAN MURPHY, on a leading epidemiologist's forecast that the epidemic would peak in China this month before subsiding.

Singapore has 50 cases. Hundreds of infections have also been reported in dozens of countries and territories. Two people have died outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

Asked about Prof Zhong's prediction, Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said: "I think it's far too premature to say that."

"We've just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, while praising China's "herculean efforts" to contain the virus.

China's latest figures showed that the number of deaths on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.

Prof Zhong also said on Tuesday that caution is needed as there is not enough evidence to regard 24 days as the longest incubation period for the virus, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

Only one in a sample of 1,099 patients infected with the virus was found to have an incubation period of as many as 24 days, he noted.

The median incubation period is three days, less than the estimated 5.2 days, according to research conducted by Prof Zhong and his team.

The findings were published on Sunday on medRxiv, the free online archive and distribution server for complete but unpublished medical papers. The research is based on a sample of 1,099 coronavirus patients selected from 552 hospitals across China. The median age of the patients was 47.

"The information in the paper should not be over-interpreted," Prof Zhong noted.

REUTERS, CHINA DAILY/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'China's new cases ease, but world still on alert'. Print Edition | Subscribe