The virus that has infected hundreds in China shows signs of being far worse than SARS, a prominent virologist has warned after travelling to Wuhan.
Yi Guan, who played an important role in tracing the development of SARS, spoke just hours before Chinese authorities prepared to put a second city on lockdown, employing increasingly harsh measures to control the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus. Beginning at midnight Thursday, all public transport will halt in Huanggang. Checks have been mandated for every person entering or exiting the city of 7.5 million, situated 70 kilometres east of Wuhan. All theatres, cafés and entertainment venues will be closed as well. Authorities said they would also close railway stations in nearby Ezhou, a city of one million.
“Conservative estimates suggest that the scale of infection may eventually be 10 times higher than SARS,” Dr. Guan, director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Hong Kong, told China’s Caixin media group Thursday. Dr. Guan spent two days this week in Wuhan,
The World Health Organization said it would deliberate again Thursday whether to declare a global emergency. The virus causes pneumonia-like symptoms and is believed to have originated at a market in Wuhan that sold wild game.
Ivan Hung, chief of the infectious diseases division at the University of Hong Kong, said the ability to quickly identify the virus in patients should help authorities counteract its spread. “During SARS, we were playing catch-up and had no knowledge of the SARS coronavirus until the very late stage – likely five to six months after the outbreak,” he said. And “so far the virus is behaving in a less lethal manner than SARS.”
Dr. Guan, however, left Wuhan convinced that “the epidemic situation was out of control.”
Most viral outbreaks ”are controllable,” he said. He pointed to SARS, H5N1 and swine fever.
“I’ve experienced so much and I’ve never felt scared before,” he said. “But this time I’m scared.”
By Thursday evening, Chinese authorities had identified 634 confirmed cases, 422 suspected cases and 17 deaths in 30 provinces and regions, including Hong Kong and Macau. Singapore also confirmed its first case Thursday: a 66-year-old man from Wuhan. Others have been confirmed in Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and the United States.