The World Health Organisation has revealed its fears over the deadly coronavirus rapidly spreading outside of China as the virus’s death toll surpassed 1000 on Tuesday.
The landmark death toll update, which sits at 1013 deaths, also marked the first 24-hour period with more than 100 deaths.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there is serious concern over the transmission of the virus from people who hadn’t travelled to China.
"It could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire," he told reporters in Geneva.
In late January, Japan, the US, Vietnam and Germany all confirmed cases of the virus spreading from patients who hadn’t been to China.
“We may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said on Twitter, urging nations to act swiftly on confirmed cases to protect their populations.
The concern comes as a group of researchers from Southampton University’s WorldPop research group release a study determining the potential global spread of coronavirus from January to April 2020 using location data from Chinese tech giant Baidu and international flight itineraries.
Lai Shengjie, a WorldPop researcher who used to work at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said it was vital to understand the population movements out of Wuhan before the city's lockdown.
“Maybe they hadn’t developed symptoms but could transmit the virus. We need to look at destinations across China and the world and focus on the main destinations and try to prepare for disease control and prevention,” he said.
World Pop research revealed Australia, which currently has 15 confirmed coronavirus cases, was in the top 10 countries receiving passengers from 18 high-risk cities in mainland China.
There’ve been some concerning instances of onward #2019nCoV spread from people with no travel history to 🇨🇳. The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries; in short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) February 9, 2020
Researchers estimated that 59,912 air passengers left Wuhan to 382 cities outside of China two weeks prior to the city’s lockdown on January 23.
The research estimated that 834 of the travellers may have been infected with coronavirus.
Severe restrictions have been implemented by dozens of countries, either significantly reducing the number of travellers from Hubei and China or banning them altogether.
Wuhan lockdown came too late, expert says
However the research believes about 3.3 million travellers who will pass through high-risk cities in China will need to be screened globally until April to “effectively limit spread beyond its current extent”.
According to Jin Dong-Yan, a molecular virologist at Hong Kong University’s School of Biomedical Sciences, authorities didn’t act quick enough when implementing Wuhan’s lockdown.
“It’s definitely too late,” he said.
For weeks after the first reports of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, millions of people poured out of the central Chinese city, cramming onto buses, trains and planes as the first wave of China’s great Lunar New Year migration broke across the nation.
Some carried with them the new virus that has since claimed 1013 lives and sickened more than 42,000 people.
“Five million out. That’s a big challenge. Many of them may not come back to Wuhan but hang around somewhere else,” he said.
“To control this outbreak, we have to deal with this. On one hand, we need to identify them. On the other hand, we need to address the issue of stigma and discrimination.”
With Reuters and Associated Press
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