New virus won't cause massive outbreak like Sars did, says top expert

Zhong Nanshan speaking during a press conference about a new SARS-like coronavirus in Beijing on Jan 20, 2020.
Zhong Nanshan speaking during a press conference about a new SARS-like coronavirus in Beijing on Jan 20, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • The pneumonia outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan will not evolve into a massive outbreak similar in scale to the Sars outbreak 17 years ago, said a renowned Chinese scientist.

Dr Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) coronavirus in 2003, said on Monday that evidence has shown that the new virus causing the pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan can spread from human to human.

Dr Zhong now heads a high-level expert team under the National Health Commission.

"It has been confirmed that two people in Guangdong province were infected through human-to-human transmission," he said at a news conference.

The two patients had not been to Wuhan, where the outbreak started, but they became sick after their family members recently returned from the city, he said.

In addition, some medical workers have also tested positive for the virus, which proves the virus is infectious, said Dr Zhong, who is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

He said a main reason for the surge in the number of cases over the past few days is that new testing methods have improved the efficiency in testing suspected cases.

The other reason is that in the past few days, the local authorities have been authorised to confirm such cases on their own, as long as the patient has tested positive twice. Previously, confirmation could be done only by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and other national institutes, which slowed down this process, said Dr Zhong.

But the pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan will not evolve into a massive outbreak similar in scale to the Sars outbreak 17 years ago, he said.

"We identified the new coronavirus just two weeks after the outbreak was reported, and we have very good virus monitoring and quarantine measures," he said. "I believe the outbreak will not have the impact on society and the economy that Sars did 17 years ago."

However, the number of cases of the new virus is expected to continue rising during the Chinese New Year holiday, which starts on Friday, due to the large number of people travelling nationwide, which will lead to the disease spreading more easily, he said.

Dr Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the outbreak is still at an early stage.

He said it is very likely that the outbreak can be contained through intensified efforts in the early stage, but coordinated prevention and control efforts nationwide are necessary. "With proper public health measures, the trend of an increasing number of cases can be reversed," he added.

CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2020, with the headline 'New virus won't cause massive outbreak like Sars did, says top expert'. Print Edition | Subscribe