Rapid spread of new coronavirus seen only in China's Hubei — WHO

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2020 03:34 PM | Updated as of Feb 07 2020 05:29 PM

Rapid spread of new coronavirus seen only in China's Hubei — WHO 1
Executive Director of the World Health Organization's emergencies program Mike Ryan, Director-General of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the Technical Lead for the WHO's emergencies program Maria Van Kerkhove speaks at a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. Denis Balibouse, Reuters

MANILA — Despite the rapid rise in new coronavirus infections at the Chinese province where the outbreak began, there is no similar acceleration elsewhere, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Thursday. 

“There has been a constant increase in cases in Hubei province but we haven’t seen that acceleration in provinces outside of Hubei,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, during a press briefing in Geneva on Thursday.

“And equally we haven’t seen that acceleration in Hong Kong, Macau, in Taiwanese people either. I think again we are seeing a relatively stable situation outside of Hubei,” he added.

However, Ryan said there are also “cycles of transmission” and that it is possible that there will again be an increase in the coming days. 

As of Thursday morning in Geneva, there was a slight dip in the rate of rise in cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD).

“The cumulative number, it looks like the daily numbers are rising but the number reported today compared to the number reported yesterday is actually down today. It doesn’t mean anything but it’s enough going in the right direction,” Ryan said.

“Nearly 3,700 cases of coronavirus confirmed on a single day is nothing to celebrate,” he said when asked if the dip meant that the transmission of the new strain of the new coronavirus was peaking. 

“I think it’s right now too early to make predictions,” he explained. “Although we are pleased that the numbers from today are the first day in which the overall numbers of confirmed cases reported from China have dropped, and so we are thankful, and I’m sure our colleagues on the frontline in China are thankful too.”

“But it is very difficult to make any prediction relating to that. We are still in the middle of an intense outbreak and we need to be very careful on making any predictions,” he added.

As of Friday morning (Manila time), the death toll in the novel coronavirus outbreak has risen to 636, with more than 30,000 people infected.

A Reuters report said that the new coronavirus took 48 days to infect the first 1,000 people. This is relatively fast compared to two other human coronaviruses: the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which took 130 days to infect 1,000 people, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which took 2.5 years to infect 1,000 people.

This even while the 2019-nCoV ARD has a lower reproduction number of two to three. A reproduction number is the average number of people that can be infected by one patient. 

This number helps health organizations determine if an outbreak will spread or if it is being eliminated. SARS had a reproduction number of two to four compared to measles, which has a reproduction number of 12 to 18.

In the Philippines, there are now three confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV ARD. One of them died - a 44-year-old man who had come to the Philippines from Wuhan, the origin of the virus in Hubei - while two no longer show symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said international experts have been regularly holding teleconferences to share information on the disease, which was said to have started spreading from a market selling wild animals as delicacies in Wuhan in December last year.

Van Kerkhove said the new strain has so far resulted in a “full spectrum of disease.”

“We have mild cases, which look like the common cold, which have respiratory symptoms - sore throat, common cold, runny nose, fever- all the way to pneumonia,” she said during the briefing, which was made available online. 

”And there can be varying levels of severity of pneumonia. All the way to multi-organ failure and death.”

Asked what the demographics of the patients looked like, Van Kerkhove said “underlying conditions (such as diabetes and hypertension) and advance age make an individual more at risk for developing severe disease and death.”

“Individuals who are over 60 years old have a higher risk of death,” she said. “We have seen a breakdown and it appears over (the age of) 80 is the highest risk factor. Increasing age increases the risk for death.”

The WHO has declared a global health emergency because of the epidemic, which has had spillover effects in other countries in the Asia-Pacific and North America.