Despite the recent spate of record low numbers of new infections and new fatalities from the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak, a leading health expert has flagged human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, as a key impediment to further curbing the epidemic.
Meanwhile, a recently published paper from researchers at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention claims that the virus surpasses severe acute respiratory syndrome in its transmission capability and may have infected as many as 3,019 medical workers as of Feb 11, including asymptomatic and suspected cases.
The National Health Commission registered 1,886 new confirmed cases and 98 additional fatalities on the Chinese mainland on Monday, with 1,807 new infections and 93 new deaths added in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the provincial capital.
Liu Zhiming, a neurosurgeon and president of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital in Hubei, died of novel coronavirus pneumonia at 10:30 am on Tuesday, China Central Television reported.
Outside Hubei province, the number of new infections nationwide has dropped for 14 consecutive days, according to commission spokesman Mi Feng.
In all, the commission had recorded 72,436 confirmed cases and 1,868 deaths as of Monday on the Chinese mainland.
“It is the first time for daily new infections nationwide to fall under 2,000, for new fatalities across the country to drop under 100, and for new infections outside Hubei to drop below 100 cases,” said Mi.
“New figures have shown that the situation of the epidemic has further improved. The next step is to enforce effective policies and save severely ill patients to increase the recovery rate,” he added.
Zhong Nanshan, a prominent respiratory expert and one of the country’s top medical advisers, said on Monday that the epidemic may reach its peak in mid to late February, and gradually stabilise by the end of April.
However, he added that the upcoming peak does not necessarily herald the turning point of the outbreak, as the tide of people returning to work across the country risks giving rise to a fresh peak, albeit the chance is small due to rigorous screening in major cities.
“At present, it is impossible to give a precise projection of the epidemic’s trajectory, but the steady slowdown in rates of infection nationwide shows that strengthened intervention led by the central government has led to noticeable effects,” he said.
Despite tremendous efforts to halt the spread of the virus in Wuhan, including the establishment of temporary hospitals converted from public facilities, instances of person-to-person transmission continue to occur in the city, Zhong said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“There are two pressing issues confronting Wuhan: isolating infected patients from healthy people and separating patients from those who have caught the common cold,” he said. “Virus transmission between people is unlikely to be halted if these different groups remain together.”
To solve the issue, he said research into refined and expedited diagnostic tools is underway, which aimed at better distinguishing the common cold from the new virus.
Zhong added that preventing hospital-based infections is vital and enhanced protective measures have significantly reduced such cases.
“Hospitals in Wuhan used to be a major venue for virus transmission during the initial stages of the outbreak, but they are doing a good job now. In other cities, very few infections among medical workers have been reported thanks to sufficient precautionary efforts,” he said.
In a paper published in the February issue of the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said that a total of 3,019 medical workers had contracted the virus as of Feb 11, including the 1,716 confirmed cases announced last week by the National Health Commission, as well as suspected cases, cases diagnosed through clinical symptoms and CT scans, and asymptomatic cases.
The paper also concluded that novel coronavirus pneumonia is not as lethal as SARS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. However, it is more contagious as reflected in the surge in infections and growing evidence of the virus’ spread.
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