Coronavirus latest: has the outbreak in China peaked?
Scientists are concerned about a new virus that has infected tens of thousands of people and killed more than 1,000. The virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, is a coronavirus and belongs to the same family as the pathogen that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. It causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, which can spread from person to person.
Here’s the latest news on the outbreak.
18 February 11:00 GMT — Has the outbreak peaked in China?
A study of nearly 45,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections in China suggests that the outbreak might already have reached its climax . The report, from the country’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, says that the day with the highest number of new infections — known as the peak — occurred around the end of January; since then, the number of new confirmed cases per day has declined. However, the number of new suspected cases and those cases diagnosed by physicians using chest images, known as clinically diagnosed cases, stayed at roughly the same levels each day over the study period, which ended on 11 February.
The latest data on coronavirus infections in China appears to show a decline in new cases, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general, at a press briefing on the same day. But he said the trend must be interpreted cautiously. “It’s too early to tell if this new reported decline will continue,” he said. “Every scenario is still on the table.”
Raina MacIntyre, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, agrees that data need to be considered with caution, but says the general trends are informative. The WHO’s reports also show a decline in new cases reported per day in China and worldwide, she says.
But the extended holiday period in China that ended on 9 February means there might be another increase in new cases around 21 February, as people return to work. “Often with epidemics we see more than one peak,” says MacIntyre.
Epidemiologists have been trying to estimate roughly when the outbreak will peak. Public-health officials want to know this so they can prepare hospitals and know when it will be safe to lift travel restrictions in Wuhan and several nearby cities.
Some models suggest that the climax will happen any time now. Others say that it is months away and that the virus will infect millions — or, in one estimate, hundreds of millions — of people before then. This model assumes that many more people have been infected than the official counts, but that these people are asymptomatic or not ill enough to seek medical treatment.
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, shown in a scanning-electron-microscope image.Credit: NIAID-RML/de Wit/Fischer