Seeking details on the history of transmission and public health response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus discovered in during the early days of December 2019 in Hubei Province, a World Health Organization-appointed team will land in China Tuesday to launch what WHO officials say will be a collaboration and exchange of ideas on measures to contain the spread of the infection.
Their arrival comes after weeks of discussion, and following a weekend in which deaths caused by the new coronavirus in China alone met and then quickly exceeded the global final toll of the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic. Today, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, more than 40,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus, and more than 900 have died. While the virus continues to spread both to, and in increasing numbers, within other countries, 99% of cases continue to be confirmed in China. About 80% of those diagnosed experience “mild” illness, 15% progress to severe pneumonia, 3% to 5% require intensive care, and 2% of those diagnosed have died WHO officials said. Questions remain about how many of those exposed become infected or show symptoms, information that will be vital to better monitoring and responding to the spread of the disease.
Tuesday also will see the first meeting of a WHO-convened research and innovation team that will seek ways to find answers to those questions.
Reports on ongoing transmission from people who have not traveled to China, including in France and the United Kingdom have been “concerning,” as indicating the potential for “sparks” that could ignite endemic spread of the disease outside of China, they remain rare, Dr. Tedros said. “The object is still containment.”
And while the impacts of the coronavirus are “relatively mild” in the context of a sophisticated health system,” WHO emergency director Dr. Michael Ryan said today, the impact on health systems with limited resources to provide intensive care, including hydration and respiratory support on a sudden and greatly expanded scale could be devastating.
WHO continues to send diagnostic kits to countries lacking them, including to Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, countries with health systems already stretched in responses to outbreaks of other infections, and with substantial numbers of travelers to and from China. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted training in Senegal for health workers from 12 African countries, and will conduct more in the week ahead.