Coronavirus cases have spread to at least a dozen countries around the world, now confirmed on 4 continents: Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.
A leading Hong Kong researcher, Gabriel Leung, warned on Monday that the outbreak “may be about to become a global epidemic”, as he released new unofficial estimates of between 12,000 and 44,000 current infections in Wuhan.
While China has imposed unprecedented city-wide quarantines and travel restrictions in hotspot areas, including Wuhan, the city’s mayor on Monday said five million people had likely left the city before the quarantines were in place.
Thailand’s health ministry reported eight cases as of Monday – the most of any jurisdiction outside mainland China.
Vietnam is investigating if one of its confirmed cases became sick after a family member returned from Wuhan. This would be the first known case of human-to-human transmission outside China, the World Health Organization says. The other global cases so far are among people who had traveled to China.
Taiwan announced moves that would essentially shut its borders to many mainland Chinese. North Korea has also reportedly closed its borders to foreign tourists, the vast majority of whom come through agencies based in China.
The United Kingdom and the United States have stepped up health screenings at major airports.
But there’s disagreement among public health professionals about whether screenings and border shutdowns are effective – or even counterproductive. “Evidence shows that temperature screening to detect potential suspect cases at entry may miss travelers incubating the disease or travelers concealing fever during travel,” the WHO said in its 24 January advisory for containing the outbreak.
A study published in The Lancet medical journal also on 24 January suggested the virus can spread through patients who aren’t showing symptoms.
[The New Humanitarian]