Cases Of Novel Coronavirus Exceed 4500; Countries Plan To Evacuate Citizens From Wuhan

Cases of the novel coronavirus first discovered in Wuhan, China nearly doubled again in a day jumping from 2585 confirmed cases Monday to 4515 cases and 106 deaths as of Tuesday morning. As the numbers climbed, countries around the world planned to evacuate citizens in the quarantined city of Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak.

The alarming surge in numbers reported by the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) echoed Chinese Minister of the NHC Ma Xiaowei’s warning in a press conference Sunday that the world had likely “not yet seen the peak of the epidemic,” just days after the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee decided not to declare the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Dr Tedros (left) and Xi Jinping

Following a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday, the World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority.”

WHO praised China’s swift public health response and agreed on further collaboration, but did mention whether the Emergency Committee will reconvene in the near future in the press release.

Meanwhile, as China expanded its travel restrictions and the Lunar New Year holiday in an effort to contain the outbreak, a number of countries have mobilized to evacuate expats stuck in Wuhan. The European Commission is sending two planes to repatriate citizens from the Wuhan area to Europe, following a request from France that activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Other countries such as the United States, Japan, and South Korea, have also announced plans to evacuate citizens from Wuhan in the coming days.

Most of the countries that have announced intentions to evacuate citizens from Wuhan will also be requesting evacuees to then quarantine themselves at home for up to 14 days – the suspected maximum incubation period of the virus. Researchers in China and at the World Health Organization have confirmed that the disease can spread from person-to-person through a respiratory route – likely through droplets sprayed by sneezes or coughs. WHO Scientist Maria Van Kerkhove said in a Live:Q&A that there had also been rare case reports of people transmitting the virus before showing symptoms of the disease themselves.

Despite strong evidence of human-to-human transmission in China, only one confirmed case of person-to-person infection has occurred outside of China so far, in Viet Nam. The other 36 confirmed cases outside China all had travel history to Wuhan.

Van Kerkhove said that those most at risk are family and friends in close contact with an infected person. The exact reproductive number – or the number of susceptible people one infected person is likely to infect – is still unknown, although researchers have given estimates ranging between 2.0 – 6.0.

Most of the infections have been in adults, although cases have been recorded in children as young as 2 years old. Those at highest risk of infection and severe disease are elderly people with pre-existing health conditions as stated by WHO. The current case-fatality rate remains around 2-3%, less deadly than other viruses in the same family such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle-Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS).