Kathimerini Greece Newsroom
China’s coronavirus outbreak poses a “very grave threat for the rest of the world,” the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday in an appeal for sharing virus samples and speeding up research into drugs and vaccines, Reuters reported.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was addressing the start of a two-day meeting in Geneva aimed at accelerating research into drugs, diagnostics and vaccines into the flu-like virus amid growing concerns about its ability to spread.
The Geneva meeting brings together more than 400 researchers and national authorities, including some participating by video conference from mainland China and Taiwan.
To date China has reported 42,708 confirmed cases, including 1,017 deaths, Ghebreyesus said.
“With 99 percent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” he told more than 400 researchers and national authorities, including some taking part by video conference from mainland China and Taiwan.
Many questions remain about the origin of the virus, which crossed the species barrier after emerging at a wildlife market in the central city of Wuhan in December, and is spread from person-to-person by droplets from coughing or sneezing.
“We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed roadmap for research around which researchers and donors will align,” Ghebreyesus told the closed-door meeting, according to remarks made available by the UN agency.
Speaking after Ghebreyesus’ address, Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist Professor Gabriel Leung said the coronavirus epidemic could spread to about two-thirds or 60 per cent of the world’s population if it cannot be controlled, the Guardian reported.
Professor Leung, the chair of the public health medicine at Hong Kong University, stressed the urgency of figuring out the extent of danger, as most experts claim that each infected person can go on to transmit the virus to around 2.5 more people, giving an ‘attack rate’ of 60-80 per cent of the world’s population.
“Is 60-80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well,” he said.
Experts are also seeking answers as to whether the measures implemented in Wuhan, such as the “massive public health interventions, social distancing, and mobility restrictions” as Leung listed, have worked to reduce infections, so that they could be rolled out in other parts of the world as well.