Wuhan virus: Scientists say Sars-like coronavirus may have already infected thousands


Health experts from the University of Hong Kong arrived at the figure by extrapolating location data from confirmed cases

Wong Tsui-kai |

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Professor Gabriel Matthew Leung Chair of Public Health Medicine at HKUMed; and Professor Joseph Wu Tsz-kei, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at HKUMed have suggested the outbreak numbers might be higher than announced.

Hong Kong and British health experts cast doubt on the official reported figures of the Wuhan Sars-like virus at a press conference on Tuesday. A team of medical experts from University of Hong Kong have estimated there may be 1,700 people infected by the virus worldwide, compared to the nearly 300 confirmed cases so far.

They arrived at the figure by extrapolating from the location of confirmed cases and stimulated how the virus would spread via various modes of transport to other cities in China. The model's best prediction for the number of cases in the city ranges from zero to three potential cases at present.

The study also said the coronavirus had spread to 20 other mainland cities.

Chinese authorities have stated that the virus is contagious between humans. The World Health Organisation has also announced it will convene an Emergency Committee to discuss what actions should be taken to manage the outbreak.

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Public suspicion has been stoked by comparisons to the 2003 Sars epidemic which killed almost 300 people, as the virus originated in China and a coverup by mainland authorities was blamed for worsening the situation.

In an information poster reproduced on social media and its own website on Saturday night, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the new virus was not Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed more than 700 people around the world in 2003.

The centre also dismissed suggestions that hospitals outside Wuhan had been secretly treating people infected with the virus, saying that all known cases were being dealt with in the central China city.

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Chang Anjian, the official social media account of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission – Beijing’s top political body responsible for law and order – ran a commentary later on Tuesday telling cadres not to forget the painful lessons of Sars and to ensure timely reporting of the current situation.

“Anyone who puts the face of politicians before the interests of the people will be the sinner of a millennium to the party and the people,” the commentary read. “Anyone who deliberately delays and hides the reporting of [virus] cases out of his or her own self-interest will be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity,” it added.