As the first cases of the coronavirus have begun reaching people who have never been to China, a leading Chinese medical professional has said that the virus has a chance to infect 2/3rds of the population if it is not containted. His warning comes at the heels of the World Health Organization struggles to contain worldwide cases, which they refer to as the "tip of the iceberg."
Prof Gabriel Leung, the chair of public health medicine at Hong Kong University, has said that the question is to figure how deep the iceberg goes. As experts estimate that each infected person could infect 2.5 other people on average, which would lead to a 60%-80% infection rate.
“Sixty per cent of the world’s population is an awfully big number,” Leung told the Guardian in London.
To date China has reported 42,708 confirmed cases, including 1,017 deaths. Even if the death rate is only 1%, that means millions of people could die if the disease becomes a true worldwide epidemic.
“Is 60-80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well,” Leung said.
As the scale of the disease grows, questions about its containment have blossomed up. “Have these massive public health interventions, social distancing, and mobility restrictions worked in China?” he asked. “If so, how can we roll them out, or is it not possible?”
“Let’s assume that they have worked. But how long can you close schools for? How long can you lock down an entire city for? How long can you keep people away from shopping malls? And if you remove those [restrictions], then is it all going to come right back and rage again? So those are very real questions,” he said.
The virus has spread through a country riddled by strife, especially in Hong Kong, which has been reeling from social unrest and violent protests.
“You need extra trust, extra sense of solidarity, extra sense of goodwill, all of which have been completely used up – every last drop in that social capital fuel tank has been exhausted after now eight months of social unrest, so it couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Leung said.