Coronavirus: WHO says China lockdown blunted epidemic's spread, leading to decline

Workers at a checkpoint for registration and body temperature measurement at an entrance of a residential compound in Wuhan, China, on Feb 23, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China's unprecedented lockdown and restrictions may have blunted the coronavirus' spread and averted hundreds of thousands of infection cases, according to a team of medical experts that visited the outbreak's epicentre last week.

Fewer patients are crowding hospitals in Wuhan and are consulting doctors for fevers, Dr Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general at the World Health Organisation, said at a briefing in Beijing on Monday (Feb 24).

"I know people look at the numbers and say what's really happening," said Dr Aylward, who led the team. "Very rapidly, multiple sources of data pointed to the same thing. This is falling and it's falling because of the actions that are being taken."

But the outbreak could gain ground again as schools reopen and work resumes, he warned.

More broadly, he called for China's experience in turning around the outbreak to help battle the virus elsewhere.

The scientists travelled to Wuhan to investigate the new coronavirus that has killed more than 2,600 people and is kindling worldwide concern as countries outside China experience a growing number of infections.

Any insights gleaned on the ground may be key to battling the Covid-19 infection as cases surge in South Korea and new ones emerge in the Middle East and Italy.

The weeks leading up to the trip were mired in uncertainty, with the United States complaining publicly that China wasn't allowing its experts on-the-ground access to examine the new pathogen.

Recent reports about the virus paint the picture of an enigmatic pathogen whose effects are mainly mild, but which occasionally - and unpredictably - turns deadly in the second week.

Unlike Sars (or severe acute respiratory syndrome), its viral cousin, the virus replicates at high concentrations in the nose and throat akin to the common cold, and appears capable of spreading from those who show no, or mild, symptoms.

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