Coronavirus: number of cases in HK could jump almost 2,000 per cent in next two weeks, scientist predicts

03-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong could see an almost 2,000 per cent increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus over the next two weeks as people return to the city from mainland China after the Lunar New Year holiday.

The claim was made by Dr Yuan Hsiang-yu of City University, who called the start of February a “critical time for the government”.

As of Friday evening there were 12 confirmed cases in the city, and Yuan, who is a researcher in the university’s department of biomedical sciences, estimates that number could balloon by more than 200 over the next few weeks.

“The next two weeks will be a critical time for the government,” Yuan said. “Scientific estimates of potential cases could help with planning ahead for the manpower needed to track down patients and their contacts.”

City University researcher Dr Yuan Hsiang-yu delivers his risk assessment during a press conference in Kowloon Tong. (SCMP)

City University researcher Dr Yuan Hsiang-yu delivers his risk assessment during a press conference in Kowloon Tong. (SCMP)

The worst case scenario estimate assumes an incubation period of eight days and is a combined total of 56.7 imported cases and 165.5 “secondary infections” people who were infected by those who contracted the virus in China out of 300,000 travellers from China, said Yuan.

A more middle of the road estimate, which assumed an incubation period of five days and 200,000 arrivals from China, found imported cases would number 15.4, and those could potentially infect a further 45.1 people within two weeks.

On Thursday, the city closed six entry points from China and cut flights and bus services to and from the mainland in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly disease.

Immigration Department statistics revealed some 19,555 mainland visitors arrived in the city on Thursday, compared to 27,780 the day before. About 37,000 Hongkongers also left for the mainland on Thursday.

Yuan’s calculations were based on the prediction by University of Hong Kong professor Yuen Kwok-yung that on January 28, the fourth day of Lunar New Year, between 200,000 and 300,000 people would travel to Hong Kong from the mainland, leading to more cases of the coronavirus in the city.

The modelling method developed by Yuan did not take into account people from Hubei province, where multiple cities including Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, are already on lockdown.

Globally, nearly 10,000 people have been infected, with 9,692 in China alone. More than 200 have died, all in mainland China.

Yuan said that even just 15 imported cases could potentially trigger a massive outbreak in Hong Kong, if stringent prevention measures were not taken. Based on the situation in Wuhan, one infected person could spread the virus to 2.92 people, which meant that once person-to-person infection started, cases would increase rapidly, he said.

Meanwhile, Yuan also calculated the risk factor for an outbreak occurring in other provinces of China, and found Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou had a 60 to 70 per cent chance of an outbreak.

“With more accurate travel data, the government could calculate the risk and only stop travel to and from those provinces with the highest risk,” Yuan said.

Despite the closure of six checkpoints, calls for a complete border shutdown have continued from various sectors, including medical workers, as the spread of the coronavirus continues.



Category: Hong Kong

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