If not contained, the coronavirus could infect 60% of the world population, producing tens of millions of deaths
By Ethan Huff
A top Hong Kong medical official has warned that, apart from full containment, the novel coronavirus could end up infecting upwards of 60 percent of the global population, leading to 45 million deaths.
According to Professor Gabriel Leung, even a one percent death rate from the Wuhan coronavirus could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths – and likely many more if the actual death is closer to 15 percent, which a recent study published in The Lancet contends.
Currently there are close to 50,000 official cases of coronavirus worldwide, with the vast majority of these in China. Should the virus reach its full infection potential, with each infected person passing it on to 2.5 other people, on average, then most of the world will eventually contract it.
Leung, who chairs public health medicine in the city of Hong Kong, warns that with a global population of around seven billion, the Wuhan coronavirus has the potential to infect more than four billion people, assuming its spread continues to accelerate as he predicts it will.
Even if only one percent of those infected die, this amounts to 45 million people who will soon lose their lives. And if the 15 percent figure published in The Lancet is correct, then as many as 600 million people could end up dying.
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World Health Organization says everything is just fine
At the same time as these independent studies are predicting mass casualties from Wuhan coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to reassure everyone that there’s nothing to worry about.
One of the group’s heads, in fact, recently told virologists warning about a potentially high death rate from the disease to stop “throwing around figures that there is no basis for” because the number of new coronavirus cases in China is supposedly “leveling off,” potentially indicating that it’s on the decline.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the outbreak has peaked, government scientists claim that it’s an encouraging sign of a possible wane, meaning the world can rest easy and not worry.
But not everyone agrees, including those who are watching the infection rate continue to ravage an already stricken Wuhan. And because many coronavirus cases are mild or even completely asymptomatic, at least at first, keeping tabs on the true count remains difficult.
In Leung’s view, the top priority currently is to establish the size and shape of what he describes as the epidemic iceberg – meaning how much of the outbreak is hiding underwater just waiting to emerge?
“Everyone is talking about staying calm and keeping our populations calm,” says Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, dissuading all concerns about any type of epidemic iceberg.
“Yet, every chance we get we seem like we want to accelerate the infodemic and not contain the epidemic. Let’s be careful in throwing around figures, speculation and scaring people. I just caution everybody to not start throwing around figures that there is no basis for at the moment.”
At the same time, CDC department head Dr. Nancy Messonnier contended during a recent National Press Club event that she and her agency “absolutely assume that the reported cases are an underestimate,” which suggests that there’s more to worry about than what Ryan and others at the WHO claim.
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Sources for this article include: