The estimated "attack rate" of the coronavirus could mean that 60% to 80% of the world's population becomes infected, Dr. Gabriel Leung suggested.
- The coronavirus' rate of infection suggests that 60% to 80% of the global population could get the virus if it is not brought under control, Dr. Gabriel Leung told The Guardian.
- Leung told the paper on Tuesday that experts must assess how well China's containment efforts have worked so far and whether other countries should replicate them.
- On Tuesday, the World Health Organization starts a two-day meeting to accelerate the scientific understanding of and the global response to the viral outbreak.
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, tweeted on Sunday that the relatively small number of cases outside of China might be "the tip of the iceberg."
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
A leading epidemiologist suggested that the coronavirus could infect 60% of the world's population, based on its estimated "attack rate," if it's left "unchecked."
Dr. Gabriel Leung told The Guardian's Sarah Boseley on Tuesday that "60% of the world's population is an awfully big number."
Leung's estimate was based on the rate at which people with the virus are passing it on, which experts have said could stand at 2.5 people per infected person, according to Reuters.
Leung, a SARS expert who also managed Hong Kong's response to the swine-flu outbreak of 2009, spoke to The Guardian en route to a global research forum convened by the World Health Organization in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
He said his priority at the WHO meeting would be to call for an urgent assessment of which containment measures in China have worked and whether other affected countries should impose them.
The WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tweeted on Sunday that infection rates outside China could accelerate, adding that the relatively small number of cases might be "the tip of the iceberg."
—Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) February 9, 2020
In an opinion article in The New York Times on Monday, Leung outlined the questions that epidemiologists, public-health experts, politicians, and health-research funders would bring to the WHO meeting.
"In magnitude, scale and velocity, this coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, is too big a problem for any one team to solve," he wrote. The virus' death toll topped 1,000 people on Monday, Chinese authorities said.
Leung added: "We need to get a clear view of the contagion and plug the holes in our understanding of the disease to inform public health decisions that affect hundreds of millions of lives."
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently estimated that the virus could peak in mid-February and infect about 500,000 people in the city of Wuhan, China, where it originated.
In his Times op-ed article, Leung said scientists must get a handle on the "clinical iceberg," or the number of undetected cases. Some people with the coronavirus have reported having only mild symptoms or going without symptoms at all for up to two weeks.
"Out of view is some proportion of mildly infected people, with minor symptoms or no symptoms, who no one knows are infected," he wrote.
However, he warned that calculating this in such a fast-moving outbreak is not as simple as it sounds. Mysteries remain for scientists at the WHO meeting.
"The challenge involves trying to quantify how many infections were actually prevented through measures such as wearing masks, closing schools and locking down cities," Leung wrote.
In a report published in The Lancet on January 31, Leung and his colleagues said authorities should be prepared to impose "substantial" and immediate public-health measures to prevent "self-sustaining outbreaks" of the virus in cities outside China.