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WHO underestimates coronavirus' ability to spread: Study

The novel coronavirus may have a greater ability to spread than the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated so far, according to a review of previous studies of the virus's transmissibility. "Our review shows that the coronavirus is at least as transmissible as the SARS virus.

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London Published on: February 15, 2020 18:28 IST
WHO underestimates coronavirus' ability to spread: Study
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WHO underestimates coronavirus' ability to spread: Study

(Representative image)

The novel coronavirus may have a greater ability to spread than the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated so far, according to a review of previous studies of the virus' transmissibility. "Our review shows that the coronavirus is at least as transmissible as the SARS virus.

And that says a great deal about the seriousness of the situation," said Joacim Rocklov, Professor of Sustainable Health at Umea University in Sweden and one of the authors of the study, published in the Journal of Travel Medicine. The World Health Organization estimates that the coronavirus has transmissibility, expressed as a reproduction number, of between 1.4 and 2.5. 

A reproduction number is a measurement of how many people a contaminated person transmits the virus to in a previously healthy population.The higher the number, the more transferable the virus is and the higher the risk of its rapid spread. When the reproduction number falls below 1.0, the epidemic is likely to die out. Researchers in Umea in Sweden, Heidelberg in Germany and Zhangzhou in China have carried out a review of several scientific studies of the novel coronavirus. 

In total, the researchers found twelve studies of sufficiently high quality.The studies consisted of estimations of the growth rate based upon the cases observed in the Chinese population, and based upon statistical and mathematical methods. The earliest studies of the coronavirus indicated a relatively low transmissibility. Thereafter, the transmissibility rose rapidly to stabilise between 2-3 in the most recent studies.

The reproduction number in the studies summed up to a mean of 3.28, and a median of 2.79, which is significantly higher than the World Health Organization's estimation of 1.4-2.5. "When looking at the development of the corona epidemic, reality seems to correspond well to or even exceed the highest epidemic growth in our calculations. 

Despite all intervention and control activities, the coronavirus has already spread to a significantly higher extent than SARS did," said Rocklov. The overall death toll in China due to the deadly coronavirus on Saturday increased to 1,523, with a total of 66,492 confirmed cases, authorities said.

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