The deadly coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in China with 25 new fatalities reported from central Hubei province, taking the death toll to 132 and the confirmed infection cases to nearly 6,000, as health experts warned that the epidemic may reach its peak in the next 10 days resulting in large-scale casualties.
The Chinese health authorities announced on Wednesday that 5,974 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus had been reported in 31 provincial-level regions by Tuesday.
China’s National Health Commission said in its daily report that 1,239 patients remained in critical condition and 9,239 people were suspected to be infected with the virus.
A total of 103 people have been discharged from hospital after recovery, the commission said.
For the first-time, Tibet too reported a suspected case of coronavirus.
Till now, barring Tibet, all Chinese provinces reported the virus cases, posing a major challenge for the health authorities to contain it.
Tuesday saw 1,459 new confirmed cases, 3,248 new suspected cases, including one in Tibet Autonomous Region and 26 deaths, with one in Henan province and the rest in Hubei, the Commission said.
A total of 65,537 close contacts had been traced, the commission said, adding that among them, 1,604 were discharged from medical observation on Tuesday. A total of 59,990 people were still under medical observation.
By the end of Tuesday, eight confirmed cases had been reported in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, seven in Macao Special Administrative Region and eight in Taiwan.
Hubei, the epicentre of the virus, has reported 840 new confirmed cases, indicating that the virus continues to spread at a faster rate.
The coronavirus can be passed between humans through close contact, Chinese medical experts say.
The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak may reach its peak in one week or around 10 days, Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan said.
“It is very difficult to definitely estimate when the outbreak reaches its peak. But I think in one week or about 10 days, it will reach the climax and then there will be large-scale increases,” Zhong told state-run Xinhua news agency.
Zhong is the head of a national team of experts set up for the control and prevention of the novel coronavirus-caused pneumonia and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
“There are two keys to tackling the epidemic: early detection and early isolation. They are the most primitive and most effective methods,” he said.
Zhong said fever and weakness were the typical symptoms of the coronavirus infection found in majority of the patients.
Ten to 14 days is a sound period for isolation and observation. When the incubation period ends, those who fall sick will get timely treatment and those who do not will be just fine, he said.
He suggested that hospitals be staffed with not only infectious disease specialists but also specialists in treating severe cases to better save patients.
Epidemiologically, the virus is homologous to the virus discovered in a type of bat in 2017, said Zhong, adding that the 2019-nCoV probably has an intermediate host that may be a certain kind of wild animal.
“The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak lasted about six months, but I don’t believe the novel coronavirus outbreak would last that long,” said Zhong.
The country has taken a series of powerful measures, especially early detection and early isolation.
“We have sufficient confidence in preventing a major outbreak or a recurrence as long as the two measures are in place, although we still need to conduct much scientific research,” he said.
Noting that the key for Wuhan is how to reduce infections inside hospitals, Zhong said he supported the construction of makeshift hospitals in the city to control the infectious disease.
The activation of top-level public health emergency response was aimed at reducing the chance of infection, he said, adding that the vaccine development may need three to four months or even longer.
“Now scientists are speeding up the research of neutralizing antibodies of the virus, but it takes time. With help from across the country, Wuhan, a heroic city, will pull through,” Zhong said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called the coronavirus a “demon” which should be brought under control.
China has ramped up efforts to contain the virus. The country has extended the New Year Festival holidays till February 2 to prevent reverse migration of millions of migrant workers to return to their work after holidays.
Universities, primary and middle schools and kindergartens across the country will postpone the opening of the spring semester until further notice.
The government is focussing on efforts to prevent mass gatherings and mass travel to ensure the virus does not spread fast.
Beijing has also launched temperature detection at 55 subway stations, including stops at railway stations and Beijing airport. Passengers with abnormal body temperatures will be sent to the hospital.