Declines in new coronavirus cases emerging in China, say experts
By Jemma Crew
There are early signs that the number of new coronavirus cases emerging in China may have started to slow, experts say.
Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there have been declines in the number of new cases reported in China over recent days.
But the panel of experts speaking at the Science Media Centre said it was unclear whether this represented an actual levelling off or difficulties recording such large numbers.
The latest figures reported by health authorities in Beijing were 31,161 confirmed cases in mainland China and 636 deaths.
There were roughly 3,900 new cases reported worldwide on February 5, 3,700 on February 6 and 3,200 on February 7 - the vast majority in China, World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show.
Prof Hunter said: "We do not know yet how this epidemic will ultimately pan out.”
"Over the last two days we have actually seen the first (instance) of two consecutive declines in the number of new cases, which is nice, but whether that is sustainable or not we will only know in about a week or so.”
"The infection, like most droplet-spread infections, tend to spread more in winter than in summer, so it's quite plausible that even if the spread does continue, at least in the northern hemisphere we will see a decline during the summer, and the big question then will be whether it reappears in November as we move into the traditional flu seasons where these sorts of viruses ... tend to predominate."
Experts involved in developing a vaccine for the new coronavirus have said testing will begin in animals next week but that it is not expected to become widely available for humans until the end of this year at the earliest.
John Edmunds, Professor in the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases,
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said it was difficult to tell whether the levelling off is due to an actual decline in cases or simply difficulties in recording cases.
He said: "I think time will tell - it's now about the time we would expect to see if there is an impact of the interventions they put in place. We would start to see an effect now if it is having an effect."
The experts also warned that travel restrictions may cease to be effective if sustained person-to-person transmission emerges in multiple countries outside of China.
The Foreign Office is currently advising against all but essential travel to mainland China.
On Thursday it emerged that the third person to be diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK is believed to have contracted it in Singapore, but it is not known how.
WHO continues to advise against travel or trade restrictions amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Prof Edmunds said travel restrictions will never be 100% effective, especially when there are mild cases, but added: "They can buy you valuable time, they can buy you weeks, certainly not days, but longer than that, and that's certainly worth implementing if we can."
Prof Hunter said travel restrictions regarding China will probably be "no longer of any value" if sustained person-to-person transmission emerges elsewhere.
He said: "At the moment we are still largely dealing with issues around China, but if the spread to neighbouring countries continues and we start getting more and more countries where there is sustainable person-to-person transmission, then I think it will become increasingly difficult to implement travel restrictions."